50 miles, 4000m ascent in 16:04:05
It’s four days after the event and I’ve still got severe DOMs. Bad enough that I’m still not able to descend stairs properly. It’s one tough event which I certainly did not give enough respect to just assuming the training I was doing for Ironman would be enough.
I’m enjoying doing events other than Ironman. I think this is because I don’t feel competitive about them. It’s all about having fun. This is why I’d agreed to run this event with Mel. It would be far more fun committed to run it together. I slept well the night before and we got up just before 5am for a quick breakfast before heading in to Cartmell to catch the bus north to Caldbeck for the 8am start.
Even though at the start of such long events you know almost everyone starts too fast you get drawn in. It wasn’t like we were going that fast but we were certainly running up a hill we knew that before long there’s no way we’d run up a hill that steep. As we hit the open fell after a couple of KMs everything settled down as the vast majority started to walk knowing the best approach to this day was to walk anything but the shallowest uphills. It’s a friendly event and we each got chatting to various people. This the closest I got to losing Mel as I took my cap off, she looked up couldn’t see me and stopped to look back. Luckily someone had a word with me and I gave Mel a shout.
This first section from the north to Blencathra is the trickiest navigation with no real tracks however we had near perfect conditions so you could see all the tops and with people not that dispersed there was no way you could go wrong. It’s a fairly gentle climb over High Pike and then some running on the tops before a long descent across burnt bracken to a river crossing and then on to the long long slog up the back of Blencathra.
From the top was the trickiest descent of the day down Halls Fell. It’s nothing too technical just a fairly sharp ridge with lots of sections requiring use of hands and finishing with a steep descent down the open hill side. The photographer knew where to place himself. I stopped by him to keep an eye on Mel coming down the tricky section. She was engaging various parts to gain friction so I commented “Remember to always have five points of contact” to which the photographer gave me the “you shouldn’t have said that” look. I joked with him that this was the money shot. We got down this and continued down the descent at the bottom of which, a mere 18k in to the race, you could feel the legs aching already.
In Threlkeld was the first feed station. We’d agreed we wouldn’t dilly dally in the aid stations instead just stay as long as require to get a hot drink and some food. We stuck to this plan. It meant a pattern established in the day whereby we passed faster people in the feed stations and then they re-passed us later. It was nice to see the same people several times.
Next up was the slog up Clough head and on to the Dodds ridge. A ridge I’ve had the opportunity to run and walk on a few occasions over the years and it’s always been fun. The weather was awesome so I was really looking forward to this section. The climb up Clough Head was tough – very steep but I find that these steep sections are probably my best terrain. I think it’s because it’s a similar muscle action to climbing out of the saddle on a bike so I was probably best conditioned for these sections.
We manage to run a lot of the tops from Clough Head across the Dodds past Sticks Pass and on to Helvellyn. This was largely without incident other than the great views, the rising temperature and the increasing thirst. The descent on prepared path (stone steps) from Dollywagon to Grisedale Tarn though quick further trashed the legs. The water from the stream at the bottom tasted so good. Like hunger is the best sauce thirst is the best cordial. The final major climb awaited us up on to Fairfield before the long descent down the long ridge of High Pike and Low Pike to Ambleside. Rachel and I had descended this in June in thick mist and pouring rain. Today was beautifully clear. Not sure this made it any better as it seemed never ending. Mel declared a “sense of humour failure” – it wasn’t what she’d expected / hoped. Some of it was runnable but it was broken by tricky sections to get down which were now getting even more tricky as we were quite tired.
In the Ambleside feed station Mel had a low point though at the time I didn’t realise it. When I’d looked at the route I’d thought to myself how great it was as far as Ambleside and how it didn’t look so interesting afterwards. I’d said to Rachel how it would be more fun to just do the route to Ambleside. This meant I was focussed on just getting out of there to resist temptation. It was also late (just after 5) and I was keen to get as much as possible done in daylight as this final section was going to have most navigation.
We managed to keep running across the first 5-10km of this section which I was pleased with as we were over 50k in. The navigation wasn’t a problem at all as they’d marked all turns with arrows. We’d got in our heads that this section was only 18k. We should have checked as it was more like 21k and as it got dark we slowed down and it got very disconcerting how long it was taking. We came down beside Lake Windermere and it was very tricky running in torch light. I stubbed my left little toe a few times which produced ever increasingly loud shouts of “You f***er!!!”. For some reason shouting at the top of your voice helps. Mel took the sensible approach of just leaving me to it. I progressively dropped in to an ever deeper hole with my mood getting worse and worse. We slowed down on the tricky sections as I didn’t want to stub my toe more and possible do serious damage. Then I’m telling Mel “this is like self torture. It’s dark we can’t see anything the only reason to do this is because of some arbitrary distance of 50 miles to cover” then stuff like “this would be lovely in daylight” , “people who enjoy ultras must be just wired differently” and “if we’d pulled out at Ambleside we’d have had a great day in the fells, it would have been tough, fun and now we’d be showered changed and in the pub having tea”. There was more but yes I was a real motivator at that point. It was strange, I could hear myself saying these things and could observe myself being very low but couldn’t do anything about it. The other thing that was getting me down was it was more comfortable to run than walk but in doing so I ran the risk of further bashing my little toe. It dragged on but eventually we got to the feed station and only 12k to go.
I had two cups of Leek and Potato soup. It was good stuff as when we set off my mood was fantastic. This last section I really enjoyed, we managed to keep moving quite well and chatted keeping our morale up. We hit the final 2 miles which were on the road and managed to run really well. In fact, I was really quite chuffed with how hard we managed to run this last bit. Crossing the line I was very pleased with myself. I’m trying to remember my old fell running days and whether anything I did then was as hard as this. I don’t think so. It makes me realised just how fell running fit I used to be. Eating my jacket potato in the finish area my attitude had changed from “never do this again” a few hours ago to “I’ll only do this again if I’m proper ‘fell running’ fit”.
Mel and I had a goal of finishing before last orders. We weren’t far in to the day when we realised it was unlikely. Getting back to our hotel we did manage to get a bottle of local beer and a packet of crisps from the hotel bar. We know how to celebrate.
Many of the conversations during this run were about my footwear. It seems a good place to address many of the questions I had. I did the race in Vibram Fivefinger Trek Ascent. Currently these are the most appropriate shoe they have for this with decent plating on the sole and the most protection from sharp stones and rocks. The tread provides fantastic grip on most surfaces.
Are they comfortable ? The question most asked not only at this race but in day to day life. I have to take a second to not be sarcastic as would I wear something that wasn’t. Yes they are very comfortable. In fact since wearing them for races I almost never blister. The only reason for the almost is I have blistered and it’s when I’ve ignored some grit thats got in. Unlike mainstream running shoes there is no where for grit to manoeuvre out of the way so you must remove it. They fit like a glove, toes are separated and your foot doesn’t move relative to the shoe – hence no blisters, even if the shoes are soaking wet.
How can you run in them without cushioning ? No problem at all. This demonstrates how removed from their natural abilities people have become. can’t they pull up a mental image of running barefoot and how the foot works superbly to cushion your landing. It’s way more comfortable than running in anything else I’ve run in.
How is it on the rocks ? This is where it’s not clear cut. Unlike well cushioned shoes you really need to look where you’re putting your foot. This adds to the enjoyment of running in them – you are more engaged. You can’t just willy nilly slam your foot down wherever. There is an optimally bad terrain for them and thats those man made paths with lots of stones of about golf ball size scattered across a mostly hard underlying surface. If this is down hill you need to slow as hitting one of those centre heel as it kisses the ground is painful. On grass these are a joy, on scree they work great, on technical terrain they give great feel and grip and in mud it’s like being a child again as you can dig your toes in. In my many years of fell running in Walshes I regularly sprained my ankles. In vibrams I’ve not once gone over on my ankle.
How is it running so long in them ? Well my feet start to ache during the run. These shoes mask very little, they give full feedback so I don’t feel you’d push on when you shouldn’t. At the start of the final section my feet ached a lot but it eased off and the day after my feet were the one thing that weren’t aching at all.
The only issue I had with them was mentioned above and thats catching your little toe. In boots or non toed shoes there’s a tendency for your foot to deflect off rocks or curbs you hit but with these the little toe just takes the brunt of it. Given it’s only my left foot this ever happens to I’m sure part of it is my own fault !
If you have any further questions about running in vibrams feel free to drop me a line.