By Andy Mouncey, Aug 7 2018 02:45PM
There’s’ an inflatable sofa in the corner and I can’t take my eyes off it.
There are even cushions and a blanket for chrissake.
I’m at the ten miles to go checkpoint and I can barely keep my eyes open despite the rain trying to beat holes in the marquee roof and the wind doing it’s best to rip the whole thing free.
‘There goes the toilet!’ comes the shout, and we all turn to see the portaloo outside now lying on it’s side as most of the crew find a marquee pole to hang on to as the rain turns to hail making it sound like we’re taking machine gun fire.
Not that I’ve ever taken machine gun fire.
But by fate or fortune I’ve arrived here just as the weather has turned itself up to Number 11 (again) and the only place I’m going in a hurry is that sofa.
I turn to Angel Number 1 (there have been two of them looking after me as I arrived in somewhat of a uncoordinated daze and a fetching shade of white a few minutes ago).
‘I’m going to lie down over there’ – my arm shakes in the vague direction of the sofa because even to my compromised senses ‘lie down’ came out suspiciously like ‘Pie Gown’.
Oh good, so now we’re slurring as well.
‘Wake me in 3 minutes, will you?’
‘Wake me in five.’
To lie down is bliss – and then to be covered in a blanket is priceless, as they say – and as my eyes close I put my faith in my capacity to re-set: I am 95 miles to the good but this is a 100 mile race with 6,800m climbing to boot – actually 105 miles but that just sounds abit messy – so it ain’t good enough. Yet.
The wheels had come off big style as I left Ambleside 5.5miles ago. The weather had turned as I left Pooley Bridge on the north shore of Ullswater at around 62 miles early that morning and with a few brief respites we’d been getting our heads kicked in by the weather gods ever since.
‘Chance of a few light showers, cooler with squally rain in the hills’ I recall from the forecast.
Ha! Try plummeting temperatures, gale force winds and driving rain turned off and on at frequent intervals... a lovely surprise after weeks and weeks of wall to wall sunshine and warm weather training (sigh). I was just thankful that my last big race outing in the Lakes in mid June also took place on a god-awful weather day after weeks of sunshine. A timely reminder that a forecast can be wrong and that I can do bad weather and still push and still operate effectively.
And that’s what I’ve been doing.
It’s been very marginal at times but I HAVE held it together not least because one big carrot is that I will see the family at Ambleside (89miles) for the first and only time during the race.
At least, on the surface it appears to me that I’ve held it together.
What I’ve actually been doing is digging myself into a big hole that the checkpoint re-fuels have only been partially successful at re-filling. While I’ve been busy in another room the Energy Depletion Monster has come calling and is now camped on my front step waiting for the opportune moment to crash my party.
So Ambleside’s a pull and I’m getting there and still moving sweetly on the descents during a rare period of sunshine – until I’m brought back down to earth with a bang as I start the zigzag drop through the wood above the town. My feet go from under me and I hit the slick rocky path hard taking a big chunk out of my elbow.
I am seriously pissed off: I’ve stayed on my feet through all the tricky rocky sections through the night and the rain-slicked wind-lashed descents through the day to come unstuck on relatively easy going one mile before The Big Final Push is due to kick in. More immediately, it bloody hurts and is pouring blood that quickly turns my forearm red and my palm slick so I can’t grip anything.
I can’t do anything so ignore it and get on with Getting There – but I wonder later if the blood loss is something that on it’s own is inconsequential but coming on the back of creeping depletion is another factor that will tip the balance.
Before that Ambleside is bathed in sun and jumping.
People pack the streets cheering and applauding. It’s another change from my last outing in 2011: There’s just more support out and about. Dropping down the final hill into the noise and there’s Charlotte and the boys waving madly along with our good friend Camper Van Steve. A fast hug all round and…
‘Run with me!’
We all set off through the cheers and the final few hundred yards to the checkpoint. I feel stupidly good and am floating along, her eyes are shining and we are both grinning like idiots as the boys hang onto our coat tails.
‘There’s so many people - blimey…’
Into the CP. By agreement there is no chat about times and places and I am completely oblivious to what time it is and where I might be in the race.
‘Don’t tell me unless I ask’ I’d said - so we generally catch up as I register that the fresh fruit on offer is exactly what I want. What I actually need is something more substantial as well - which gets forgotten in all the hormones flying about and the first aid patch up operation happening on my arm.
To more cheers we all exit and run out through the park still chattering away. Fast hugs and kisses send me on my way and I’m still floating when I hit the base of the climb out of the town.
‘Right then - let’s play!’
I change down, hit the accelerator – and…
Absolutely bloody nothing.
‘Ok, fine – be patient, lean into this and take your time. If that’s what it needs…’
But it needs a damn sight more than I have to give and I get slower and more demoralized as I head up and over the climb. My world narrows and Dragging My Sorry Ass has replaced the floaty feeling of a few short miles ago. To match my mood the weather deteriorates quickly again necessitating full shields-up attire for the umpteenth time. I am baffled at the collapse and seriously pissed as The Plan was to push from here: Most other folks will be slowing now – but that’s not supposed to include me.
Short ramps up assume the magnitude of mountains and I’m thankful that once the first climb is out of the way over Loughrigg most of this section is pretty flat.
Reaching the Chapel Stile CP becomes my world and I arrive – they tell me – looking like a ghost. The Energy Depletion Monster has not just rung the bell, it’s also gone and kicked in the door, trashed the rooms and shit in the bed.
It will take the combined forces of two Angels, an inflatable sofa, tea and chocolate brownies and a serious word or six to confine it to the naughty step. And with ten miles to go that’s what I’ll get.
Meanwhile while I’m doing drama queen in my corner, up at the head of the race another drama has played out in the final stages as Sabrine Verjee has come within 10 minutes and one navigational error of becoming the first outright female winner. Which, I suspect, makes her even more pissed off than I am right now.
It all started very benignly if somewhat more noisly than I recall that previous evening: Dry, warm and sunny – and the people! Ten deep in places for the first few hundred yards as 500 of us wound our way through Coniston. But was I the only person wearing a bumbag? It seemed I was: I was certainly the only person to go topless – a state of wardrobe undress I was to keep until darkness fell around four hours later and even then it was mostly vest only through the night with only a couple of full ‘shields-up’ mode as the heavens opened and cleared again.
The Plan called for steady, steady and more steady that could also be confused with ‘easy’ all the way through the night to the 59 mile point and ‘halfway’ at Dalemain by breakfast time. Then I could let Competitive Bloke out of the box with The Big Final Push coming at 89 miles from Ambleside.
As is my habit I race without a watch, on feel and with a strict ‘Eyes Front’/ selective hearing rule. By the technological wonder of live race tracking Mrs Mouncey was able to report afterwards that The Plan HAD worked – kinda: The first CP and 80 mins on the clock had me in the 30’s which I would gradually reduce to 13th at 89 miles to eventually finish 15th after my ‘wheels off’ episode. More specifically that boiled down to three actions:
1. Keeping everything feeling ‘just right’
2. Not giving a damn about what was happening around me
3. Sitting my ass down in the CPs and taking time to re-fuel
This last one was harder than you might think ‘cos as a rule I don’t – and have very very rarely – sat down in a checkpoint. Must be getting old…
So the first 20 miles passed warm and sweaty and free from drama and I arrive at the head of a small group at Wasdale to be greeted by Spiderman, Superman and other assorted be-garbed heroes masquerading as CP crew.
There was another change as well: A new (to me) later race start time meant darkness earlier and specifically this meant two tricky, rocky descents – one short, one long – that I’d taken in daylight in 2010 and 2011 that were now to be tackled under torchlight. Throw some rain on top to make it even more interesting and it became very, well…interesting. So I’m very pleased to arrive at the one third mark sometime midnight-ish having remained on my feet, free from incident and navigationally on-task.
The only slight concern is that I seem to have left my extra climbing gear at home. I pressed the gas on the steeper stuff over the last 8 miles or so just to see and expected to be able to up the ante.
‘Cos to be perfectly honest I’d trained my ass off on this aspect.
So I was somewhat concerned to discover that I very definitely got a No Response. I wasn’t losing time by any means but I wasn’t gaining any either. At all.
And I expected to gain – but I was just getting same.
Still, one third distance in meant the big hilly stuff was over for a while and a lot could happen in the hours before the old mountain climbing legs were needed again. So double helpings of pasta and rice pudding later and I set my sights on the detour around Keswick and the northern-most part of the route.
Climbing out of Keswick on the lower slopes of Skiddaw and I’m lit up from behind by the world’s most powerful headtorch. Shortly after two figures glide past:
‘Lakeland 100?’ they ask
‘Yeah. You too?’
‘Nah. Bob Graham…’
‘Look great, fellas’
A short laugh as they forge ahead to the first of their 42 peaks, 66 miles and 27,000’ of climbing that is this iconic Lakeland mountain challenge: ‘Should do – only set off 5 minutes ago!’
It feels slow round this bit and analysis later will show that it is – relatively. The saving grace is that I’m quicker on anything remotely downhill and seem to be chugging along fine on the flatter stuff.
Except that I fizzle out just short of 50miles coming into the Dockray checkpoint and have to slow to do an emergency feed barely a mile out of the CP as daylight breaks again. Prior to that I’ve had to add another layer…two signs that all is not well though at this stage completely salvageable. Which I seem to do by having an extended stop and feed at the CP then a smooth and respectable 10 miles to Dalemain and 59 miles.
Examination later will show I arrive around 80 minutes later than I did in 2010 and 2011. In 2010 I was just getting slower from this point on, but in 2011 I was ready to play. The goal this time was to feel that way again at this point regardless of how long it took – yep, got that – and to push on for a negative split.
A tag team of weather gods and the Energy Depletion Monster will conspire to push that last one out of my reach this time but that’s something for the next few hours. At this point I’m feeling good, on-task and head out after a full change, wet wipe shower and feed leaving a bunch of other folks in my wake.
Three miles later the heavens open, the temperature drops and the wind whips up to set the pattern for most of the rest of the day. And that’s just in the valleys. I’m still moving sweetly at this point and the highlight in the deluge as I head down the eastern side of Ullswater to the Howtown CP at 66 miles is that for a few precious seconds I’m joined by a red squirrel who runs alongside me atop a wall keeping pace quite happily.
I’m still smiling on the inside and out as I transition through the CP and set my sights to what I think of as the crux of the course: A long pull to the high point of the route at nearly 700m above Haweswater followed by a tricky 3 mile traverse along the lake shore to the next CP at Mardale Head and 76 miles followed immediately by a murderous exposed climb up and out via Gatesgarth Pass and an equally demanding descent. And you still ain’t at the next CP.
In the event it takes a chunk out of me and more: The weather is deeply unpleasant and I struggle on ground I should be moving sweetly over. Overall on this section I don’t lose time relative to those around me – and actually I take some and continue to chip away the places – but it’s here that I start to pay as I spend too long in a marginal state trying to stave off the cooling down cycle by upping the work rate but finding I don’t have the energy and the coordination skills to make it stick as well as I need.
The highlight (?) is being blown back down the steep climb of Gatesgarth by a raging headwind and driving rain and having to figure a way to present as low a profile as possible while bent double trying to breath and keep traction on a loose rocky path while cursing my decision to do without poles.
I arrive at Kentmere and 82miles warm and coherent again after working hard on the long descent into the CP but I’ve gone through too many cooling cycles on the way and unbeknown to me the rot has set in. I’m focused on the fact that I’m still pretty chipper underneath the soggy clothes and am still picking folks off – and next stop is Ambleside.
Mastering The Muppetry
Just 10 miles to go and it takes me a flippin’ age to get going again. There’s world class faffery going on: I’ve put way too many clothes on which means a few hundred yards out of Chapel Stile and as the rain eases I’m now too hot. To make matters worse I’m suddenly very aware of a chafing undercarriage – actually, make that a deeply uncomfortable tenderized undercarriage.
I shed a layer, make some clothing adjustments and trot on.
I shed another layer, make a more detailed inspection that has me wincing and add some lube.
Still no joy.
Oh for f**ks sake, get a grip will ya?
Shoes off, over trousers off, shorts off then break the elastic in the leg of the pants. More lube. Shorts on, shoes on, trousers packed, wiggle and adjust and try again.
Really?? Right – f**in’ Nuclear Option then.
First aid kit out, shorts off, scissors ready and …
I slice my thumb open on the scissors and suddenly there’s blood everywhere again.
Thinking choice words along the lines of ‘I really don’t believe this’ and awarding myself a Certificate of Muppetry With Honors I get on with the task of cutting the crotch out of my pants using hands and scissors now slick with blood – as the eventual winner of the 50 mile race comes zooming past with a cheery greeting. ‘Had planned to be finished before he arrived (sigh).
Oh to be in the hands of bleedin’ experts…
Eventually I gain some semblance of order in my attire and comfort in the nether regions and shuffle off looking for a stream to clean up in.
And get going again.
Because remarkably I do get going again and manage some level of respectability over the final few miles which means that the net effect is someway short of a full implosion.
THAT happens at the finish: I hold it together all the way back into Coniston, buoyed by the welcome that includes a surprise visit from my friend Sharon and the sight of Joe (8) who has run ahead into town from the finish to do the last bit with his Dad.
His Dad however is too tired to do anything other than smile weakly and keep moving despite Joe’s excitement for a last ditch sprint. Once over the line the control goes and the crash comes as the Energy Depletion Monster makes a last-ditch attempt to escape the confines of the naughty step. It all necessitates a short recline with the medics as my system to helped into re-set mode.
It’s not exactly the finish I imagined but it’s a finish – and on a day where only 215 out of 500 will finish and after 7 years away – I’ll take that with pride, a smile and a cup of tea with three sugars and a nice warm blanket, thanks.