What's that phrase, poor preparation leads to p.p. performance? I know myself too well. Earlier in the week, I'd cleared my diary so I wouldn't have to rush around and get to Coniston in good time for the Montane Lakeland 100. Every intention to be organised, to drop Echo off with my sister, arrive early at the campsite, register on time, be there for the compulsory briefing and start on time. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, think I may well have written that somewhere else before. That was the plan, the reality somewhat different.
Leaving home at 12:40 after throwing all of my hastily put together camping kit, nutrition and running gear, drive into very heavy traffic on the A66, divert myself via the satnav to Carlisle, a rushed pleading phone call to my sister to organise a hand over for my four-legged training partner, even this went wrong, as we both ended up in queueing traffic at Penrith for over an hour. There followed another rushed drive to Coniston where I had missed the registration and the compulsory briefing. Would the organisers still allow me to run?
I was greeted at the car parks by my saviour for the weekend, Mel the marshal (or, as I could barely contain my adoration for her red hair and wonderful smile, Mel the magnificent; if only I was at least 25 years younger, inwardly I sighed). She let the registration desk know I was delayed, helped me get my kit ready for the safety check, loaned a compass (I couldn't find my newly purchased one) and all the time with a smile and a breeziness as if nothing was too much trouble. At the very least she allowed me to get to the start line thinking a young man's wistful thoughts and not the few miles of beautiful, undulating, Lakeland terrain in front of me. During this rushed registration I'd barely had time to say 'hello' to Patrick (Peroni-Norris), Richard (Rex), Vicki (Hulme) and Paul (Personal Best-Brown), although Paul was able to afford me his Tommee Tippee cup as we needed a solid non-collapsible cup for hot drinks or food at the various checkpoints (thank you for bailing me out). I joined the starting pen at the very back after trying to stretch out on the grass and being reminded that the event was starting in just a few moments.
Leading up to the event, I had tried to train and do some runs to at least get a few miles in my legs, but I knew I'd not done enough. Some wizened runners plan for a 100 mile run is to have Plan A, B, C and maybe D. One dimensional as ever and with low expectations I resolved on Plan F (finish). It was that simple.
The organisers had sent out a fantastic email the week before the event reminding everyone that it would be highly unlikely that anyone would think they had done enough training, just come along and enjoy the beauty that the Lake District has to offer. That email alone took a load of expectations and worries off my shoulders. Rarely do I take note but something struck a chord. Let's just see how far I can get...
Shuffling away from the start, the streets are lined with well wishers, loved ones cheering their 'special one' on. I saw a few friendly faces in the crowd too. It was a warm feeling bobbing along, you can't help but smile outwardly and inwardly. As many of my friends know I have no clue how to read a map, another aspect of my carefully crafted plan therefore was to follow whoever I could who looked like they knew the way. Genius!
I'd dropped a bit of clanger in my haste to be prepared, the spare batteries I'd packed in my back pack didn't fit my head torch as the one I'd snatched out of the car was a cheap rechargeable one I use for taking the dog for the occasional night time walk. So I began, to weave another cunning strand of ingenuity, not only do I follow someone who looks like they know where they are going but follow someone with a bright head torch and save whatever limited power I had. After all I'll only need the cranial illumination on one evening, little did I know and clearly a slight over estimation of my abilities as I was to find out.
When I ran the Lakeland Trails 100k and then the Montane Lakeland 50 in 2019, I honestly couldn't tell you where we'd travelled, the scenery is beautiful, inspiring and breath-taking. To wax lyrical about a particular fell, beck, ghyll, lake or water is beyond me since I had no idea where I was other than in the Lake District. I take too many things for granted. This was once again the case. What was wonderful was the line of head torches snaking their ways up hills and down valleys. There was so much to be thankful for. That remained my mantra as each mile passed. Be grateful you are here, grateful you are running or walking, grateful you're not in pain, grateful for where you are and who you have in your life. A week later I remain full of gratitude for essentially over 32 hours of therapy and an uninterrupted connection to the universe.
Each checkpoint came and went with a sense of relief and satisfaction. Each and every marshal and volunteer along the way seemed to seek out those in need of support, a friendly word, a joke, a kick up the bum, or just refreshments. How they keep a smile on their faces for so long is amazing. Heading downhill at one stage I remembered a Vassos Alexander quote from his latest book, Don't Stop Me Now, 'brain off, brakes off'. It was quite pleasurable to scamper down the trail but it must have been quite early on and I had to tell myself that there was still a long way to go. Sensible head switched back on (well as sensible as you can hope for with me).
I was lucky enough to get to run with a 500 legend in the making (this was his 4th Montane Lakes 100 and he's hoping to complete his fifth next year); another saviour, it meant no need to navigate or map read, just trundle along in his wake and enjoy his chat and company, thank you so much for helping the miles tick by Nick (a proper athlete to boot with a fastest known time of the Anglesey Round). By the way I've 'magpied' these images from Nick, hope he doesn't mind but they were on FB?
When reaching Dalemain, there were friendly faces galore, I couldn't quite believe I'd managed to get there before the 50 runners start time. Many of my 10in10 friends were congratulating me on strong shuffling, must admit I felt pretty good and not at all as if I'd left half the challenge behind me. The stew at this point tasted delicious, even cake and custard was like ambrosia nectar. I finally understand why you might require drop bags too. I stank! My feet were beginning to blister. Fresh shoes and socks would perhaps have helped, along with clean t-shirt and more vaseline. My buttock cheeks were somewhat chafed.
At Checkpoint 9 Bobbin Mill (with it's Hogmanay theme), two faces were welcome sights were there to greet us, the first, Mrs Norris, who I managed a quick chat with about her Peroni fuelled running machine of a husband, the inimitable Pat, whose race notes for each of his events are some of the funniest you'll ever read. The second was the beautiful, red haired framed face of Mel. Swoon! She promised she'd meet me at the finish. Maybe she's married or betrothed to another, we'll never know, all I can say is that my spirits were lifted and so I trundled on.
Each time I thought I might hit a sore point, an area of difficulty I talked kindly to myself. Early on in the challenge, whenever I almost tripped over a rock, pebble or uneven ground I'd berate myself with 'you dick', this softened as the miles passed by as I realised I couldn't go on like that, how awful was I intending to make myself feel? In the end, 'Ooops a daisy' was re-birthed as a phrase for a grown man, allowing me a wry smile towards the character Hugh Grant played in Notting Hill.
After 24 hours of movement, we came into Ambleside, this was one of the lowest points of the event. It seemed like the streets were full of cheering people, urging and congratulating both the 50 runners and 100 runners on. It was stirring to see the love for the event from spectators, marshals and locals alike. For me, it was a little too much, I was tired and I knew it. All around me, every runner seem to be saying how far left to go, how it was still a marathon before us. Fatigued, wanting a cuddle or a duvet, or both, I couldn't help but shed a tear or two as I came into the checkpoint and once again I surprised myself with an awareness I'd not previously recognised in me. With my cap over my face trying to conceal the odd tear, a very kindly marshal asked if I was alright, 'just a cup of tea and some cake please, I know I look like I'm losing it but honestly I'm okay, just tired.' She organised a chair to one side behind the refreshment tables and I was able to get water bottles refilled, enjoy a nice sweet brew and a slice of the good stuff. Onwards...
Getting to the next checkpoint was admittedly a little struggle and I walked most of that section. It's not too hard in comparison to some of the other sections but I figured I'd earnt a time out. More stew at Chapel Stile and the friendly face of Rexy who once again echoed the sentiments of others saying how well I was doing. By now I was beginning to believe it as I was moving with no pain, discomfort and a real sense of hope, although I kept reminding myself there was still miles to go and not to take the distance for granted.
My carefully constructed plan began to unravel now. The rechargeable head torch was a faint glow and hardly lighting the undulating, unforgiving, stony terrain in front of me. So I latched on to three 50 runners who helped guide me down the other side of Jacob's Ladder at Tilberthwaite on the home run into Coniston. Once down the other side, I was elated to realise that the finish line was within touching distance. I left the runners who had kindly guided me on the last section home and tried to put a bit of a spurt on into the finish line. I'd been thinking how I wanted to finish, I'd contemplated wearing the Blues Brothers style glasses from the event, pulling my shorts right up to show the differing shades of sun tan throughout the event and perhaps even a sing song. At one point I thought I might be a tad emotional, especially after my little moment at Ambleside. But, what was wonderful was the calming influence of the marshal who greeted me at the finish and who announced my 100 finish in the marquee, 'Duncan, first time 100 finisher.' Cheers from those in the tent. Satisfaction. Simple satisfaction.
Embarrassingly, I've now seen the official photos of my start, finish and part way through, the common theme, gormless face. Why couldn't I have smiled just like everyone else seems to have done?
Over 100 miles (even though my tracker and Strava says 98.5) completed in 32 and a half hours. About 6300 metres of ascent. To be perfectly honest I really am not bothered by the stats, it was the finish I had dreamt of, to achieve something I'd thought I genuinely couldn't achieve (especially considering the lack of basic training) but then I realise that what I have despite the lack of training, ability and physique is the will to, just keep going. And, I will, just keep going.
Time Taken Last Timed Location 32:31:15 Coniston Group Battery Veteran50 59% Last Tracked 25 Jul 02:49
Checkpoint Time Split
Coniston Start Fri 18:00:00
Seathwaite Fri 19:46:34 01:46:34
Boot Fri 21:27:49 01:41:15
Wasdale Head Fri 22:44:32 01:16:43
Buttermere Sat 01:12:00 02:27:28
Braithwaite Sat 03:23:36 02:11:36
Compulsory Check 1 Sat 05:25:49 02:02:13
Blencathra Sat 05:51:40 00:25:51
Dockray Sat 08:01:47 02:10:07
Dalemain Sat 10:46:19 02:44:32
Howtown Sat 12:51:57 02:05:38
Mardale Sat 16:00:37 03:08:40
Kentmere Sat 18:24:17 02:23:40
Ambleside Sat 20:56:17 02:32:00
Chapel Stile Sat 22:55:56 01:59:39
Compulsory Check 2 Sun 00:34:07 01:38:11
Tilberthwaite Sun 01:15:11 00:41:04
Coniston Sun 02:31:15 01:16:04
What's next on the horizon...