I entered the L100 in January after a laughable visit to the Lakes. After Caesars Camp 100 last year I'd decided that I was heading for the hills and going to try for a Bob Graham, no matter how long it took. So after a skin full in the pub in Threlkeld, sleeping on an air bed in the back of my 4x4 (which is interesting if one of you is built like a brick outhouse and the other one weighs 8 stone), Dave and I trudged up the path to Latrigg at 6am, trying not to have heart attacks as an old bloke casually jogged past and disappeared. We eventually finished Leg 1 hours off the allocated time, me refusing to go down an icy Halls Fell Ridge, Dave declaring I was rubbish and not speaking till we got to Tebay services on the M6, I decided that the date for my BG attempt would be when hell freezes over. Hence the L100.
We went on 1 of the organised recees in January, taking forever but enjoying it till going down Scarth Gap in the dark we staggered about, lost, me declaring it's this way I can see head torches. That's a sheep said Dave. So it was time to get serious. I bought a camper van, a Mazda Bongo, called Mrs Um, and we spent every spare minute in the Lakes.
Dave would drop me off, then drive along the route and run back with Albert, the fell running English Bull Terrier. I recced each section slowly, checking and double checking the road book. Dave taught me how to use a gps. I can read a map and use a compass but I'd never used a gps. I'd wind him up by asking which button turns it on every time I used it. Then we'd go over the section I'd run on the laptop that night and then I'd run it again the next day, taking photos. We did this until I'd covered the whole route at least twice, some sections I did 5-6 times, especially the zig zags down from Black Sail Pass and Scarth Gap. I hated those zig zags. It seemed every time I was there it was either sheet ice, 70mph winds where you had to cling to the ground or become a kite or thick clag. I had a real doh! moment on Scarth Gap when I realised there's actually a path! I didn't use the gps, roadbook or map on race day.
Every recce was accompanied by copious amounts of beer, laughing and apple pie and always had to finish with a run/walk up Spooney Green Lane to Latrigg car park cos we were so bad at it. This eventually became a run the whole way, then finally a timed run. We'd then always stomp up Skiddaw with Albert who loved running full pelt down it so much it was re named Skidpaw.
July was fast approaching and although Dave was entered in the L50 his job meant he was going to be away at the MTV awards in Georgia on race day. Our friends Ant and Tracy (aka the fell running Fairy) stepped in. They're both quite brilliant fell runners with Ant storming his Paddy Buckley Round a few weeks before and the Fairy going for it next year. Through supporting Ant and another friend Simon on his Paddy the previous year I'd met a whole group of brilliant mountain runners who all help and support each other. Their love of the mountains is infectious and Ant and the Fairy are the most genuine and generous, if a little unhinged, pair of running fools.
I drove up to Coniston on the Thursday staying in a campsite in Mrs Um. I'd only recently got into the Tour de France after watching the documentary Chasing Legends and was hooked. So I watched Chasing Legends again that night and tried not to think about the race. Over to Race HQ nice and early on Friday I met Mike at registration, whom I'd met at Caesars Camp. Are you going to do a super woman impression again he asked. I was 1st Lady at Caesars, breaking the course record by over 3 hours. No, just a finish will do me I said. Oh you're not one of those just finishers are you said Mike. What could I say? I had a plan. The plan was to try for sub 30 hours. To not worry about places just the time. Only Dave, Ant and the Fairy knew this and I wasn't going to actually say it out loud.
Back to Mrs Um I looked over the map. That bit's on the wrong side of the river I thought, so I checked the road book. Sure enough there was a change just before Boot. I thought I knew every inch of the route so I read and re read the road book just to make sure there weren't any other surprises. I dozed off for a couple of hours and woke up to see my friend Andy Mouncey putting up his tent. I wandered over to say a sleepy hello, Mr Mouncey! Mrs Prior! Hugs. How are you feeling? I have a plan I said. I have a plan he said. See you on Sunday.
Bumped into my friends George and Dale, both part of the brilliant fell running gang I'd recently met. George was putting on aftershave.
So, off to hear the pre race briefing and listen to the legend that is Joss Naylor. I daren't go near him or ask him for a photo for fear of me hanging off his legs like a Jack Russell. Then the start and we were off.
Coniston to Seathwaite
It was really hot, I was dizzy with shaky legs, the whole world overtook me, I hated it. So hot and so many people, the last time I'd been up here it was just me and a huge eagle. I decided that it wasn't happening for me today and I was going to stop at Seathwaite. Then I thought of Dave stuck in Georgia and Ant and the Fairy driving up the M6 to look after me all weekend. I couldn't let them down. In and out of the checkpoint and carried on, hating it.
Seathwaite to Boot
Calmed down a bit. George and Dale came storming past as I was staggering up a hill, George laughing and smelling like an Old Spice ad. The plantation was the least boggy I've ever seen it. Just a month before the Fairy and I had been knee deep in bog. Trundled along into Boot, still not settled down but a few minutes up on my schedule.
Boot to Wasdale
I don't stop at CPs, just try to be as quick as possible. Get what you need, never sit down, say thank you to the marshals cos they have a tough job and go. I marshalled the L100 in 2008, firstly in Wasdale, with mad Dave, one of the original route planners and then at Mardale Head with Paul and a million tins of tomato soup. I prefer to eat 'proper' food as opposed to gels etc so I'd carried a couple of bacon sarnies from the start, much to George's amusement. I ate one as I walked up the hill out of the checkpoint taking in the view. My friend Rob, who is no slouch when it comes to running, had texted me before the start saying try to look up occasionally. He'd also said be like Maximus, strength and honour, strength and honour! Over to Burnmoor Tarn I found my marker rock and forked right whilst everyone else carried on up the stony path. There are paths everywhere and they all more or less go to the tarn but I was determined to do the route to the letter. The last time I'd been over this section with Ant it was thick clag with around 2m visibility so it was great to be able to see the valley. Down into Wasdale and a blonde girl overtook me. I'd seen her at the start and been impressed with her immaculate eyeliner! Make Up girl was christened. Into the CP, quick slurp of soup and out, head torch on, 30 mins up on schedule.
Wasdale to Buttermere
Make Up girl was just ahead and dithered at the 1st gate, is it this way? Have you not been up here before I asked? No. Hadn't recced any of the route. Ok. We were on our own so I said you'd better stick with me up here, gets a bit tricky, especially in the dark. I'll get you to Buttermere. So off we went, 2 blondes, chatting. She said we were 4th and 5th girls, I doubted this. Jen was only 23 and had just run the High Peak Marathon, which I've done years ago. We got to the top of Black Sail Pass and I made her look behind at the long trail of head torches snaking across the valley. It's great isn't it she said. Yes it is. We nailed the zig zags, Jen in front, me shouting instructions; look for a tree, scramble on your arse, keep the beck on the right, look for a bridge. We got to the bridge, good work said Jen. Past the YHA and a small group of blokes caught us up. I carried on chatting to Jen till I realised she wasn't actually behind me. Wasn't stopping so up to Scarth Gap, take it steady and don't cock it up. There was a group of about 6 blokes just ahead so I tagged onto the back keeping a beady eye on where they were going. Never follow people or assume they know the way. Luckily for me they did and we were through the gap in the wall, well done chaps! Down onto the path where I always fall over. I think I relax after the rocks of Scarth Gap and stop concentrating. I passed the bit where I fall, thinking I usually fall here, and then of course I did. A full on arse slide. Down the lake to the CP where the marshal told me I was 2nd lady, are you sure? Quick refill, cup of soup and off. Jen arrived as I leave, glad she's ok.
Buttermere to Braithwaite
I walked through the 1st woods drinking soup as a chap with a ponytail came past. I caught him on the path as another chap was coming back towards us, muttering I've missed the turn. We're not at the turn yet I said. We ran in single file till we caught a small group. Shall we go past said Ponytail Man, if you want to I said. I will if you will he said. He ploughed to one side leaping through the bracken. God I'm not doing that so I played the girl card and said excuse me could I get past? Every one of the group moved over and let me past. Ponytail Man, Chris, and I trotted on, with me in front. I really like this valley so on we went chatting about the Tour de France. Just before the 2nd left turn Chris said I'm going to hang back a bit, good luck. Up the climb and a couple of blokes caught me, including Jamie who I then ran into Braithwaite with. Jamie had completed a BG and was going well. It was dark and we were running side by side so apart from Jamie being a fit bloke with a shaved head and running poles I have no idea what he looked like! He was having to drive to a wedding on the Sunday, straight after finishing, good grief. I stopped for a pee before the CP so arrived on my own to the cheers of hurrah the girls by the marshals! I was nearly an hour up on schedule.
Braithwaite to Blencathra
Pasta and magic tea at the CP. I'll make it milky and lukewarm said the lovely marshal. You've done this before I said but can I have it hot and strong?I like tea that scolds your throat, it did. The next section is flat, some road then a nice valley to Blencathra so I wanted to push the pace. I was wearing a garmin but wasn't planning on turning it on till Dalemain so I just ran as hard as I could. There was a bloke staggering around on the other side of the road, good Friday night in Keswick I thought. I went down the narrow path from the road, convinced myself that someone was just behind me. No head torch, so not a runner. God I'm going to be attacked I stupidly thought. I speeded up, it sounded like they did, so I went flat out with bats flying about my face till I reached the road realising that the noises behind me had been nothing more than my waist pack bouncing around. There was a camper van near the pub with people cheering and clapping, same on the road behind Fitz Park, people clapping. Up Spooney Green Lane, right you can do this. I ran the whole way to Latrigg, quick drink then off round the valley, head torches snaking around the other side. Into the CP I nearly had a heart attack, there were black and orange (?) balloons tied to the walls and the gate, leading you in. I thought the 1st one I saw was a black sheep hovering in mid air, like you do. Into the CP, you're 3rd lady said the marshal. Hang on a minute, I was 2nd lady at Braithwaite and no one has passed me. Mike, from Caesars, was there. Just happy with a finish are we he said, I shrugged. He was fuming as it seemed quite a few people were cutting corners. Can't see the point of this, it's not a fell race, you should follow the route or don't bother.
Blencathra to Dockray
This section is mainly flat trails and is where I planned to push on and do some work. I'd made a list of the top 6 or so ladies that I thought could all win. All had different strengths. I'm rubbish at climbing and I'm even worse at steep, technical descents but I can run at a steady pace for a long time, am very stubborn and will do pain. So this section was the start of my only advantage I thought. Going up to the Old Coach Road there was a group ahead taking the wrong line, basically cutting the corner. That's annoying I thought. I caught up with a couple of chaps and remarked that if the group ahead were who I thought they were then that's the 2nd short cut they've taken. Oh everyone cuts the corner at the end of the Blencathra valley they said, I didn't and I think I shouted at them that it wasn't on. Anyway I was off, caught up with a group of runners with George and Dale! Here she is they said! I was off, turned a corner and saw the 1st lady ahead! Ok, I was expecting to see her around Dalemain or later, but here will do. I pushed on into the CP thinking that this will be the 1st CP I'll dib in as 1st lady and Dave will explode. 1 hour up on schedule.
Dockray to Dalemain
Very quickly through the CP down into Dockray. I wanted to put a bit of distance between me and the 2nd lady if possible so I pushed on. Through the woods, around Gowbarrow with fabulous views, I caught up with a chap who was looking a little worse for wear. You go ahead, you're faster than me he said. Are you alright I said. He'd been being sick and was unable to keep anything down. I offered him some dioralyte but he had some. We ran together and he started to look a bit better. He'd run the L100 twice before with impressive times. Marc and I continued on over the fields before Dacre, look at the size of that bull, chatting and egging each other on. My phone alarm went off, that'll be 7am then I said, I should be in Dockray, Marc smiled. We caught up with 2 other blokes, one of whom I know now was Paul Navesey, who were motoring into Dalemain so we all more or less ran together. Still an hour or so up.
Dalemain to Howtown
I'd originally planned a 10 min stop at Dalemain with a sock change but I decided against it. I had a spare pair of socks and some vaseline with me so I could always do that later if needed. Funnily enough loads of people asked me before and after the race what socks I wore, they were all comparing posh running socks at the start. I had an old, grey pair of 2 for a fiver socks from M and S on. The lovely marshals got my drop bag and I drank a slimfast shake whilst also eating pasta, changing my top, getting another Buff and my sunglasses on. I'd noticed on the run into Dalemain that my hand was bleeding quite a bit. It didn't hurt but was bleeding so the marshals cleaned it up, had a look and I'd got a tiny cut on my finger. Anyway I gave Marc a slimfast, as these tend to settle my stomach, got another stash of bacon sarnies and a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and was off. I jogged up to the 1st little slope out of Dalemain and 'hid' behind the only tree to have a pee, in full view of the road. Down onto the river path, another loo stop, again not exactly in private and towards Pooley Bridge. As I approached the car park I saw a large photo of a pair of Vivienne Westwood boots that I really want stuck on a gate. Eh? Then sat in the car park were Ant and the Fairy! Dave had jokingly said he'd buy the Westwood boots if I won the L100 AND broke the ladies record, as he obviously thought fat chance, so the Fairy was giving me a bit of an incentive! They told me 2nd lady was 30 mins behind and I was off through the village. I pushed down to Howtown, surprised that my quads were still quite relaxed. I arrived 1 hour 15 mins or so up.
Howtown to Mardale Head
Another quick stop with a cup of tea, the lovely lady marshal told me Mr Mouncey was in 4th and looking good. I headed off, another loo stop before the biggest climb of the route. It was boiling by now and I had a wet Buff on my head. My legs were tired but the scariest thing was my breathing during that climb. I was breathing like I was sprinting, had to stop a few times to calm down as it was getting really bad. Finally reached the top where a chap was sat down putting on new socks. Off I went on the grassy path just glad for a change of pace. Sock man was behind me and I didn't want to show him the right route down to the bridge, which is a bit stupid really but I pushed on to get out of sight and find the trod. I'd spent a while on recces here looking for the right path as I'd read lots of race reports of people getting lost and bracken bashing here. It's simple when you know where it is, but most things are I suppose. Down to the bridge I was looking at the new deer gate (?) so I overshot the bridge! Stupid, stupid I muttered down to the lake path. Everyone seems to hate this section but it's ok, makes you concentrate as it's rocky. Sock man overtook me and we passed lots of bemused walkers. What time did you start running yesterday? 5.30pm I shouted. 5.30, 5.30 shouted down the line of walkers. Into the CP at Mardale where I spent hours in the sheeting rain as a marshal in a gazebo from Asda that we lashed to my car to stop it from taking off in 2008. I was looking forward to this CP as the army were manning it so I was expecting some large, beefy eye candy! You know you're old when the army look around 15 years old. As I had some soup I asked a marshal to open a packet of SIS powder for me and tip it into my bottle. He couldn't get it open, come on you're in the army, it's only a packet! Sock man stayed at the CP as I started the long trudge up the next killer hill. Lost the extra 15 mins, so now around 1 hour up.
Mardale Head to Kentmere
Halfway up the hill, with me wheezing like an old donkey there was a family sat on the grass. 16th place and 1st lady past us they said, although you may be the last by the state of you! Thanks. Finally at the top and onto the long, steep, rocky descent that I was dreading expecting it to really hurt. Amazingly my quads were still playing and I made my way steadily down the valley. Ant and the Fairy, unbeknown to me, had bought a map and were off for a run somewhere around here. The Fairy is learning how to navigate properly and tries to test you whilst out on a run which usually results with me and Ant making re entrant jokes. She'd bought a 1:50000 scale map which she wasn't used to, so had planned a much longer run than they wanted, then she fell head first into a bog, lost the map and was so annoyed she had to do 200 crunches to calm down whilst Ant pissed himself. Like I said, lovely but a bit unhinged. At the bottom of the walled lane I needed to pee again, not trusting my legs to bend I had the genius idea of leaning against the wall and just going. No one around, it'll be fine. Till I realised I'd pee'd all over my right foot. It was official, I'd gone feral. Into Kentmere, great CP with lovely helpful marshals again. I was a bit bossy demanding a fruit smoothie if it was quick, sorry. Still 1 hour up.
Kentmere to Ambleside
Up the long, rocky climb out of Kentmere, it was baking. I passed a few walkers who looked a bit appalled by the state of me. It occurred to me that my socks were drying really quickly and that my feet were ok, so much for posh socks. Down the other side and a lad on a mountain bike came thundering past, absolutely flying. I saw him at the bottom of the lane and he apologised for passing me so close. No you were brilliant I said. You in a race he said, how far you going. I told him and he said Jesus. Yes I thought, jesus indeed. Two weeks before Dave and I had got the steamer from Pooley Bridge to Howtown, which was fab and yes I am quite old, and then run to Ambleside. It was boiling then and we'd stopped at the Post Office in Troutbeck (?) which is run by Miss Marple and her sidekick, honest, and had an ice cream, so the thought of ice cream engulfed me. I'm going to stop and get one. Brilliant. Passing the Post Office I gave myself a talking to, you're not on f*cking holiday so no ice cream and get a shift on. Through the woods before Ambleside, which are called the 'lovely lovely' woods in our house after a recce where all I could mutter in Ambleside was, woods up there, lovely...lovely. Ambleside was great, people cheering, run properly to the CP, a photo of The Boots on the pub wall, Ant and the Fairy leaping about. In the CP I asked the marshal to sort out my SIS powder but faffed about so much I couldn't find it in my bag. Ok I'm wasting time, just put dioralyte in. Then thought I can't run 15 miles on just water. There was a display of SIS sachets in the shop so I asked if I could take 2 and promised to come back the next day and pay for them. They let me! Outside, Ant with wild eyes declared the record is ours but we now want sub 29, ok, sub 29! Ok, Ant. The Fairy told me that 2nd lady was still 30 mins behind, what?! I later found out that she was lying. So I was off. Lost 18 mins on the hour up.
Ambleside to Chapel Stile
I'd given myself 1.5 hours to do this section. But I had to catch up that 18 mins so I ran as hard as I could, more of a forward staggering goblin really, but it worked, I made up the time. Into the CP I stopped for a couple of mins and ate some stew, chatted with the marshals. 1 hour up.
Chapel Stile to Tilberthwaite
As soon as I left the CP my left knee seized up, couldn't walk without limping, let alone run. What! I tried to run but it seriously hurt. I shook my quads, they were ok. I rubbed my IT band, which made my knee worse, ah. I stumbled to the bridge and then gave myself a right bollocking. I'm not having this; my knee does not hurt, my lower back is not spasming (which it had been on and off for hours), I do not have blisters, I do not have stones in my right shoe and I do not need the loo. Ok, got it, all is good and get a shift on. So I did, past the farm singing Queens of the Stone Age Go with the flow, I need something good to die for, to make it beautiful to live. Repeating strength and honour, strength and honour, get a shift on. Someone was fast approaching, the 1st 50 mile chap came flying past, skipping over the rocks. That's just showing off I said. You're doing fantastically well he said. Past the tarn, nearly there. I couldn't think about the finish, about Dave in Georgia, about Ant and the Fairy, about winning, about the time as I would have just sat down and cried. The 2nd and 3rd 50 mile chaps came speeding past, c'mon nearly there they whooped. Climbing out of the valley I ran out of fluid and was gagging for a drink. I'd been topping up from the streams all day but there weren't any really. Finally seeing the final CP, thank god for that, run properly to the CP. There was a couple of people in the lane cheering and shouting my name, this really confused me, how do they know my name? It was Terry, one of the event directors and Lauren I think. Sorry I was a bit tunnel vision at this point. Still over an hour up.
Tilberthwaite to Coniston
A glass of water and I paced up and down the car park drinking, I can't stop, my knee will seize up. Terry was giving me route advice! Keep the beck on your right etc There's no one near you so you don't have to worry he said. Eh? I staggered up The Steps, deary me Usain Bolt needn't be worried. Just keep moving, every step gets you nearer. I couldn't stop thinking about what Terry had said, there's no one near you. But 2nd is 30 mins behind. Terry wouldn't lie would he? Would Terry lie? I decided that Terry wouldn't lie and staggered on. Get to the top of the last descent by a certain time and that means...I was trying to work out times but it was all a blur. Started to think about the finish, about winning, about the time. Had to stop doing that as it was getting a bit too much and I thought I was going to sob. C'mon, not there yet. The final descent, a blur of Chasing Legends quotes, if Captain America can ride the last few days with a broken collarbone you can run this descent. To the front gentlemen, ride till you die. Down I went, amazingly quite relaxed, reached where the path zig zags, thought stuff this and do it like the Fairy and went straight down the steepest bit. Do it like the Fairy, do it like the Fairy until I slipped and nearly fell, then don't cock it up, don't cock it up. On to the lane, power up. Gingerly over the cattle grid, don't cock it up. Then a bit manic, c'mon Mark Cavendish, release the missile! Into the lane it was a bit gloomy under the trees but I could see a couple of people on the road. They started to shout, a bald man running next to me. Hello Mr Mouncey I said, till I realised it was Marc who I'd run with into Dalemain. He'd stopped there he said, still being sick. He ran ahead. This nearly stopped me dead; what an incredibly nice thing to do, to wait for me. Marc ran past the pubs shouting 1st lady, 1st lady! Everyone was cheering, I sounded like I was having a full on asthma attack. C'mon, c'mon past the garage, turned into the last road, get the dibber ready I shouted at Marc, he was off. Run properly, c'mon. There's the Fairy pointing to the dibber, I dithered and shouted at the lovely marshal just dib it! Sorry. I finished in 28:24:12, 1st Lady, 15th overall, new course record by 3 hours 23 minutes.Then a blur. Being spun around, look over there, photos I think. Ant and the Fairy jumping about like gibbons, champagne in my face. Into the hall, everyone cheering, the dibber cut off and handed a print out of my splits. God knows what I did with that. Over to the Nice Man (was he a doc?) who wanted to weigh me but I insisted on having my shoes photographed. The Nice Man took off my shoes, you really don't want to touch that right one without gloves. My hands look like oven mitts I said, don't worry the Nice Man said. Same weight as the start. Someone handed me a phone, Hello you said Dave, god knows what I said. He's in Russia I said to no one in particular. Can I have crumble now? Ant and the Fairy take over, can I have crumble now? Beer and crumble and chatter and cheering as more startled rabbits finish. We stayed here for ages it seemed, more beer, till the Fairy said, time to get you showered lovely. More beer, time to get you showered lovely. More cheering, then TIME TO GET YOU SHOWERED LOVELY. I got the message, you smell like an old goat. Shower, then back for more cheering. I spoke to Terry. Conversation was a bit like, I love this race, love the Lakes, love the road book, love Joss Naylor, god, poor man. Went to bed at 3am, up at 5.30am. Saw Mr Mouncey, lots of grinning. We drove to Ambleside, planning on breakfast and a visit to Lakes Runner. Feeling faint I stayed in the car, hot sweats. The bloke in Lakes Runner says well done and of course you don't need to pay for the SIS says Ant. Back to Coniston, had to lie down, feel sick. Then it's the prize presentation, standing at the back sweating with the Fairy and Make Up girl, glad she's ok although she pulled out at Dockray I think. She'll be back. The prizes fly by, still feel sick, just don't faint. Onto the 100, the men go 1st, surely the girls should be 1st. It dawns on me that I'll be the last prize awarded. Cheering for Terry, the brilliant winner, don't listen to the times 'cos I'll cry. My turn. Even if it kills try to walk normally says the Fairy. Down to the front, please don't fall up the stairs. Thank god I didn't have to speak or I'd have done a Gwyneth. Slowly down the stairs hoping my knee wouldn't spasm and I wouldn't catapult into the 1st row. Can't believe the cheering, people shaking my hand.
We drive home in convoy with me asleep in the back of Mrs Um, Ant and the Fairy mainlining double espresso; poor Fairy looked shattered. I drive myself the hour or so home from Ant's fuelled by a whole packet of jaffa cakes. Finally thinking of the finish, my eyes leak. A lot. Sobbed all the way home.
Dave arrived home at 3.30am Thursday, by 1pm we were in the Vivienne Westwood shop in Nottingham, me with a big grin.
The Lakeland 100 is a fantastic event. Marc, Terry, Lauren and all the marshals work so hard, not just on the race weekend to make it what it is; they're brilliant. It's the toughest and by far the best ultra I've done and anyone who puts themselves on the start line deserves that medal. As Mr Mouncey so eloquently put it in an email this week, to finish the L100 you need to eat nails.
So if you've read this far, you've probably visibly aged and are in need of a sleep. Me too.