My poor feet!

Ok, they’re not so bad now and it’s only the Tuesday after the UTLD, but, my god did this race wreck them like I’ve never seen or felt before!
I’ve been really excited about doing this race since I entered which was the first day you could. I knew that 11 weeks between the end of JOGLE and this should be enough for recovery and a little training. I underestimated JOGLE’s aftereffects on my feet which as I think I’ve already mentioned in a previous post left me with no training at three weeks to go and my feet were still sore! It was do or die. I was determined to have a go at this race this year so I planned a medium mileage week followed by a fairly heavy week, a week off then the race. Two weeks of training for a tough off-road 100 miler seemed a little silly but made it all seem a little more uncertain, more of a challenge. There was a pretty high chance that I wouldn’t finish this one which seemed to make it all the more exciting. The course is actually 104 miles in length and includes a pretty hefty 6971 metres of ascent. I’ve recceed most of the course earlier in the year so knew what a beast this was going to be. I also knew what a stunning course this is. To see so much of the Lakes in such a short time by foot is an incredible feeling.
I made my way to the train station after work on the Thursday and caught the train to Birmingham, where I was met by Drew, Nick and Steve who was driving. I squashed my bags in then we set off for the 3 hour drive to the hills. I was pretty relaxed and could already start to feel the adrenalin begining to pump. All four of us were signed up for the 100. we wondered What the journey back would be like – who would finish (if any) and who would not. We finally arrived at the Youth Hostel that Drew had sorted for us. We signed in and made our way up to our 4 man room. Bunk beds! Brilliant! I think we were all far too awake to get the nice early night we should have had, but eventually relaxed nicely and slept. In the morning I awoke and looked out the window. The Hostel was around 20 metres from the shore of lake Windermere. It was perfectly still and the sky was clear. A goose dragged its feet across the glass like surface of the lake as it lazily took off. This was going to be a special weekend I thought. We decided to get breakfast at the Hostel, so made our way down stairs and stuffed our bellies for the day ahead (even though the start wasn’t till 1730), while looking out across the lake. I felt pretty relaxed. I felt good. I felt I knew what was coming. JOGLE taught me that I can take a fair amount of pain and keep going so I had a little bit of confidence I’d complete.
After breakfast, we packed up and left for Coniston school which was the race HQ for the weekend. We arrived just after 0930 and went straight in for registration. I think we were the first through! They checked I had everthing in my pack, issued me my map and road book, T-shirt and finally my dibber which I attached around my wrist. The dibber is an electronic id device that records you at each check point. This information would instantaneously update the website so that friends and family can keep a tab on your progress. A nice touch that should prevent lots of worry (especially Mum!). After this we parked up in the almost empty school field and erected our tents ready for us to crash out in once we’ve (hopefully) finished. It was thankfully a beautiful day as we had around 6 hours till the briefing! We wandered into Coniston and grabbed a coffee and walked up the first mile or so of the course. We then went back to race HQ and got some food from the temporary cafe that had been set up for the duration of the event.>
Finally after much lazing around we had the brief, which was all very straight forward, then we had a special guest in the form of Joss Naylor the legendary hard man Fell runner. He gave us some good humoured advice then we were done till the start in one hour.
I got changed into my race kit and made some final adjustments to my bag, then walked over to the start line and waited for the off.
Finally Joss started the race and we began. Stuart Mills shot of like he was in a 10k and would probably never be seen again, while the rest of us made our way through Coniston and began the first of many hills and much walking! I tried to stay at a sensible pace, but was soon finding myself leaving behind Drew and Steve which got me a little concerned that I was overdoing it. My pace felt sensible so I carried on. I made my way up with Colin which is always a pleasure. After just over an hour we crested the hill and began the first major downhill. Pretty steep in places and quite difficult footing meant that this was a fairly slow affair for a poor descender like myself. My feet were killing already, but I just blanked them out and took one step at a time. I made the bottom of the hill and ran down a tarmacked road to the first cp at Seathwaite. I grabbed some food, dibbed in (checked in with my electronic dibber), then ran on trying not to waste any time. We made our way along a valley floor before turning up a decent little climb. The gradient eased as we passed a farm and headed into a plantation on very boggy ground. My feet were soaked through almost straight away.The path was slow, wet and rocky but eventually I came out onto open fell and headed down hill at a sensible pace. A sharp downhill into Eskdale before heading into Boot for the next cp. All was going ok, but as I kept reminding myself – these were early days!
I waited at Boot for a few minutes for Steve and Drew to catch up. They were a little further back than anticipated. We left together and I took off straight away. A small group of us stuck together up the hill and across the moorland past the tarn (mountain lake) and dropped down into Wasdale for the next cp. There was soup and bread in here but I just had some jelly babies, some cake and pushed on, knowing there was a long walk ahead up and over Black Sail Pass where I could eat. The sun was dropping fast now. I thought it’d be nice if I could get down the other side in light as it’s a pretty dangerous descent and I didn’t fancy it in the dark! As I made my way up, I starting chatting to a couple of guys, Allan and Simon. We stuck together on the climb and as we reached the top, we realised that it was time to mount the headtorches. We nearly made it! Allan lived relatively local and spent a fair bit of time in the Lakes and it showed with his descending as he dropped down the hill like a stone in comparison to Simon and my relatively slow and cautious descent. As we made our way along the flat at the bottom past the coolest youth hostel we turned right to start the next ascent. We started passing a few people and eventually caught Allan again. We dropped down towards a lake and took the amazingly good path that skirts aro> und it for a couple km, then headed to Buttermere, the next cp. We decided that the 3 of us were going to stick together for the hours of darkness as this was good for moral, we could keep our eye on the pace better and not let it slacken off and there was less chance of getting lost. We seemed to be fairly well matched on the pacing side of things too which obviously helps. Next stop was Braithwaite which I hadn’t been to yet as this was the point where Drew and I got lost on the recce in the dark. I was a little nervous about missing the trail again but there were a few people ahead and Alan seemed pretty confident with the course. Cool. We climbed for quite a way crossing over 3 tributuaries before taking the ‘obvious’ path heading very steeply up. I was happy now. This was the path we missed. It was very steep and I was dripping with sweat. I kept drinking as often as I co> uld, which wasn’t quite enough in these early stages!
Eventually we went over the top of this monster and began the slightly hairy descent down into Braithwaite. There was a very steep drop on the left, the path was pretty narrow and slighly off camber! I was pretty cautious coming down here! Soon we arrived at the cp. We stopped here for a 15-20 minute feed. I ate loads of pasta and rice pudding followed by loads of bicuits. Yummy Jummy Dodgers seemed to be going down well!
We pushed off from here knowing that there was a fair bit of flat road coming up. This was a relief for the feet and the concentration levels too. It’s always suprising how much I have to concentrate on my footing in the dark when running in the dark. It can be very consuming, especially when tired!
We eventually got back to the hills and started climbing till we got around half way up then started contouring all the way around a side valley which enabled us too look across and see how many were ahead. We only saw about 3 lights so the very front guys must have been miles ahead! We turned round the head of the valley the headed back on the other side for a relatively speedy approach to the next cp at Blencarthre. We were here very briefly before shooting off down hill. My feet were really starting to feel hot around the balls, a sure sign of blisters! I never suffer from blisters! Oh dear, this adds a new challenge to the whole thing! Still a long way to go and they’re only going to get worse! Oh well, I’ll just have to do my best at ignoring it and try not to dwell on it.
We were starting to see day light now. Always good for moral. Soon we’d be able to remove the headtorches which would be such a relief! We ran along a rail track for a few k before heading up a short climb to access the coach track, a decent undulating track that bought you all the way to the next cp at Dockray. We topped up our water and rushed off. My feet were deteriorating fast and giving me hell on the down hills. One step at a time. That was the only way to proceed in my head. We were not quite half way yet!
The next section to Dalemain was one of the longest at 15.9 miles. The weather was stunning and I had simply sweated since I’d left the start! I must keep drinking I thought. I must be losing so much fluid! We had stunning views and this seemed to really help fight the pain that was really hurting me now. When we arrived at Dalemain, Alan said he’d be stopping to do something to his feet as he was suffering from blisters too. I chose to just leave mine. I stuffed my face with pasta again, and sit down and rest them till Allan was done. I felt pretty good other than my feet. This really suprised me considering the small amount of training that I’d managed over the last 3 months. I felt pretty positive.
When Allan was done we moved off. We soon passed Pooley Bridge and then I was on the part of the course that I had n> ever seen. Thanks god for Allan and his excellent knowledge and confidence with the route! after a steady climb we had fairly decent trail down to the next cp at Howtown. Whilst we were dropping down we could see some dark cloud cover up on the higher ground. There had been a little rain forecast from around 12 onwards. Would the jackets have to come out? Another pretty fast stop at the cp and we were off for the next big climb! The climb up High Kop was long and very steep in places. Simon and I were unsure of Allan at this point and kept checking and rechecking the map and road book. We ended up following him up and eventually discovered he’d been correct all along! Don’t know why we ever doubted him! This was the highest part of the course. We went from High Kop to Low Kop before dropping down all the way to Haweswater where we joined a pretty good path that followed around the edge of the lake before coming to the next cp at Mardale Head. The clouds were gathering above us. My feet were in a right state at this point and nothing felt ok. Uphills, downhills, flat and even the few stretches of road were agonising. I was still feeling > great in every other way. You get straight into the next climb as you depart the cp. Gatesgarth pass had a howling wind coming down it into our faces as we began to climb. We decided that now would be a good time to don our jackets as when we got to the top the wind and rain would be terrible. The higher we climbed, the more we realised that we were correct and had made the right decision. As we came over the top it was blowing a gale and the rain was heavy. I found this quite envigorating though was aware that we really needed to keep moving and get off the top as we would chill very fast! I found it especially nice to have the rain wash away all the salt that was covering my head leaving me feel really refreshed!
The downhill was long and very, very painful. My poor feet were destroyed. I could feel blisters all over now. Quite a bit of the down hill had slate put across it with one edge in the ground whilst the other edge was projected upwards presumadely to add traction for 4×4′s on the way up. For my poor feet though this was pretty hellish. Each footstrike felt like it was ripping open the blisters! We finally passed this section and arrived at Kentmere, the next cp. They had smoothies here which went down very well indeed. I also had yet more pasta before We hobbled off on our way towards Ambleside. Soon we were back on the course that I’d recce’d previously. This felt good as I knew what was left. Just before we got to Ambleside, Allan went ahead to see if he could get his feet looked at. Allan was very determined to try and break 28hrs and his feet didn’t seem to be affecting him as bad as mine, so I was expecting him to go it alone now. We were down to 2 now. I felt good in all other ways, but my feet were really slowing me now. When we got to Ableside, Allan was laid up getting his feet done. As soon as he was done, we wished him luck, he got up and shot off. A quick round of soup and bread and we were off ourselves. Just 17 miles left now. I was sure that I could grit and bear it, but it was going to pretty awful! One step at a time.
Knowing the course really was helping me along my way here. I felt positive and knew I’d complete. The pain was nearly unbearable. I kept telling myself that it was just damage to my skin. It’d be fine in a week or two. The next cp was at Chapel Stile in the entrance way to a school. We sat down to rest for a minute. By this stage a few of the 50 milers had passed us looking remarkebly fresh. As we sat and relaxed, a 50 miler ran up and threw some orders at the crew before running off in a flash. Simon and I found it all very amusing just how much of a difference there was between the rather relaxed 100 milers and the rather twitchy 50′s. We pushed on knowing there was only one last cp. I used my knowledge to take us fairly confidently to the final cp at Tilberthwaite, which was the back of a van run by some squaddies. A mere 3.5 miles left. Easy, except that the final 1.5 miles was a pretty bad downhill into the finish. Normally this would be fine, but my feet were going to make this a pretty torturous descent!
We were near the top when a thick blanket of cloud surrounded us. We needed to find a small tree! We could see about 5 feet in front and it was now dark again! I was sure we were on the right track, but Simon wasn’t convinced. We stood trying to work out what to do, when miraculously the wind just blew the cloud cover away, exposing the tree we were after. Just the descent left now!
This was more painful than I thought it’d be. I had to stop and sit down twice as I’d trod on a stone awkwardly which in turn had burst some blisters which had sent waves of pain through me. After 30 seconds of sitting down the waves would have eased off enough to put my body weight on my battered feet again. Finally we made it down to the tarmac. We went as fast as we could as we had 6 minutes left to drop below 30 hrs. It’d be close! We both dibbed in in 30hrs 00mins 35secs! Oh well, never mind. I finished in 12th position! I couldn’t believe it. Way higher than what I expected> , and had my feet held up a bit better, it would have been lot’s better, but it’s rare that nothing goes wrong at these distances! I tried to eat my meal at the end but my appetite completely deserted me. I wanted a shower but the thought of standing on my feet any more was too much. So I crawled to my tent and passed out.
When I awoke I had a shower and hobbled into the hall. Some people were still coming in so I cheered them in. My feet were really messed up, and walking was painful and slow. I discovered that of the 4 of us that travelled up, only Steve and I had finished. It’s a tough race! The journey home was long, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t manage the walk home from the station so got a cab. Home at 8. I got ready for work, then staright to bed. Somehow I managed to get up at 5:10 and ride my bike into work and do the whole day! Not quite sure how I stayed awake!
So a total success. I write this a week later, and my feet are nearly fully recovered. I’ll take a further week off before getting stuck into 4 weeks of training before flying out to Spartathlon in Greece. Then that’s it for the year for me.
I’ll sign off now as this has been a bit of a monster posting, and I doubt if too many people have made it this far.
Will probably write soon to let you know how Spartathlon training is going.
Happy running,
Neil.

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