Whitehead’s Go Wild: Spring Break

Linda must take the credit/blame (delete as appropriate) for our recent move into ultra-running. We’ve run a few marathons and naturally wondered what other challenges we might try. We’re both better suited to endurance events than to short races so when she discovered an ultra that club colleagues have done and that’s known for being beginner-friendly, we were in. 37 miles in the Lake District with a cut off of 12 hours – what could possibly go wrong? Even on a bad day, surely we could manage three miles an hour (a brisk walking pace)?

A niggle of doubt crept in when I looked at the times done previously at the event – this was going to be tough. But we had four months to train, although my preparation was hampered because my fractured pelvis in November prevented my physio on an existing knee issue so I was under instruction not to run more than four miles until a fortnight before the event! I placed my own interpretation on that by taking regular walk breaks, so never running more than four miles continuously. That got me through the Solihull half-marathon and two long runs of 13 and 15 miles with Linda but my volume was still way down on what I would expect to do for a marathon, let alone a longer race. Meanwhile Linda plugged away with her weekly long runs and was in good shape.

We always intended to run it together for mutual support. Six weeks before the event, we went on a group recce weekend where we ran the course split over two days – 22 and 15 miles. This was invaluable for route finding, confidence building and kit testing (neither of us having run with hydration backpacks before). But our quads really didn’t want to run at the end of day 1, let alone the following morning!

On race day, Sunday 27th May, the 140 starters included Darren Maggs, who’d done it twice before, as well as us. The event was split into four sections with three checkpoints/feed stations. The first 11 miles from Dodd Wood along Derwent Water to Rosthwaite were relatively flat so we settled into a comfortable jog at 14 minute mile pace. Half an hour later we began the climb to the Honister Slate Mine and beyond – 1,500 ft of continuous ascent in increasing temperatures that became sweltering. Coming down the other side was almost as difficult. By the end of this second 11 mile section to Low Gillerthwaite Field Centre, Linda was feeling faint despite drinking water with electrolytes and thought she might not be able to go on. We took a decent break at feed station 2, Linda stuffing down crisps for the salt and replenishing her electrolyte drink.

Eventually, her sheer determination not to give up got us out on leg 3. Because Linda’s legs cramped up each time she tried to run, we still had to walk most of this 11 mile section along Ennerdale Water and eventually, at 30 miles, up the infamous “Bummers Hill”, another 750 ft of continuous ascent to the summit of Dent on legs that were much more tired. All this time we were flirting with the 12 hour cut off, me taking frequent surreptitious glances at my watch and furiously calculating what we needed to do while not communicating any concern to Linda. She said afterwards that she’d been well aware of my concern, which she shared, but that I’d been very good in not putting any pressure on her and allowing her to dictate the pace.

At feed station three we were a few minutes outside the cut off, but were allowed to continue for the final four (relatively flat) miles. Another runner at this feed station gave Linda a Totum salt sachet which seemed to perk her up a little. She felt she might be able to run a bit but decided to save it for the finish. After much brisk walking, we jogged over the finish line together with two and a half minutes to spare. Never in doubt! Checking the results afterwards, I couldn’t help noticing that we were catching Darren during this last section, although he finished well ahead and was never in any danger! Over 20 people dropped out en route, mostly due to heat-related problems.

So it was a serious challenge in many ways, not all of them expected. Stunning scenery, 4,500 ft of ascent and superb race organisation, with fish and chips and a pint of beer included afterwards and one of the best finish medals we’ve ever had, individually made from Honister slate. Would we do it again? Linda may feel there’s unfinished business. I may look for a longer but flatter event. Watch this space…

Keith

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