Thou shall not finish. What I learnt by not finishing a race.

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At the beginning of this week, I asked Twitter about what I should post about. The most popular choice was what I’ve learnt about not finishing a race. Not just any race. The Lakeland 100 is a 105 miles foot race around the Lake District. It has over 22,000ft of vertical accent.  I managed to get to 107km (around 67 miles) of what I had nicknamed the ‘CANT’ – the welsh for 100 in ‘cant’ as well as being a play on ‘can’t.’ Turns out, I couldn’t. The image above, from left to right, shows me at a beach party at checkpoint 3. It was 1130pm ish, around 20 miles in and over five and a half hours in. Slow. However, I left the checkpoint feeling buoyed by some hot soup and some marvellous hugs.

The second image is a part explanation for the slow speed, and subsequent drop out. I had trained well and was mentally prepared but the quagmire type conditions meant wet feet and slow slow going. I’m confident on rough and steep terrain, indeed I can run down a mountain at a fairly decent rate of knots. However, in the dark and wet, that would have been silly. I knew that I could cover the 105 miles in under 40 hours by walking.

The third image was at Dalemain, check point 8 59.1 miles in at 1pm after almost 19 and a half hours moving. I had fresh clothes, baby powder dry feet, custard in my belly and lots of smiles and hugs. I came in to Dalemain wanting to quit. I was convinced to give it a go to Pooley Bridge, and I managed it to Howtown. At this point, the conditions underfoot were good, the sun was out and, having completed the 50 mile version in 2015 in 12 hours 20, I knew what was up ahead and I knew I could do it.

I struggled. My feet suddenly felt like they were on fire, I have severe chaffing (sorry for the rudeness of this, but it’s ultra running) all over my crack and I was so tired I was hallucinating. My quads were also screaming at me to stop. Still, I got to Howton, checkpoint 9 and almost 67 miles in with 9ver 18,000ft of accent behind me. I’d been going 22 and a half hours. However, I was very slow, getting slower, with 40ish miles left and a second night on my feet.

When I got into Howton, the checkpoint was fairly empty but the reception was excellent. I said I’d like to retire and, to the credit of the check point crew, they tried to talk me out of it. However, I had gone further than I thought and it was time to stop. I sat down, had a cup of very sweet tea and felt bloody sad.

Although I had made the right decision: being an avid mountain person I didn’t want to create a rescue situation, I was gutted. My first DNF (Did Not Finish). But what did I learn after 67 miles of self-supported (bar the check points) effort?

  1. I need to get to the location sooner than I did. It’s a long drive to the Lake District and, after putting up the tent, it was late. I didn’t get enough sleep in the lead up. Next time, get there a day early and take the camper van or book proper accommodation. I needed sleep and perhaps should have gotten a power nap in at one of the check points. The course is a self-navigating one and I needed my wits about me.
  2. The weather is unpredictable, but the wet conditions caused bad chaffing and my feet, after 19 hours of being soaked, were wrecked. This put me at a massive psychological disadvantage. Next time, I will take a batter foot kit, I’m good at looking after my feet so I’ll add in a small bit of talc and actually stop to dry feet. I’ll also put a spare pair of shoes at the drop bag. I’m not sure why (perhaps a reader can explain it?), but my feet felt worse after the break at Dalemain.
  3. My check point strategy was good: I went in to them feeling like I wanted to stop and, after hot food, drink, flat fizzy pop and a check of the feet, I was back up spending 10-15 minutes in each one on average.
  4. Apart from the foot kit, my equipment choice was good.
  5. 2017 is the year of failure, with redundancy caused by restructuring, a string of personal screw-ups, this was another tough pill to swallow. I found out that, although stubborn, I can make the right decision. Now it’s time to recharge, regroup and come back in to the sunlight.
  6. I raised over £800 so far for Women’s Aid, a charity which is very close to my heart. Visit the page here.
  7. Most of all, I’ve learnt that people are bloody fabulous. The encouragement throughout the challenge was breathtaking and kept me going. One voice in particular ensured that I kept going as far as I could. Afterwards, I’ve been humbled by the continued support. Truly amazing people out there.
  8. When I completed the 50, I had a few races under by belt which gave me the confidence. Next time, I’ll plan in at least one multi day ultra as well as some longer races to build confidence.

Were there any highlights? Plenty:

  1. The beach party, in the rain at almost midnight.
  2. The camaraderie from fellow racers.
  3. It sounds odd, but the routine between checkpoints. Firstly, ‘I feel amazing and can do this.’ Secondly, around 3-4 miles in ‘Bloody hill / gnarly underfoot bog / rain.’ Thirdly, ‘I can’t actually remember the last mile, although I’m fairly sure I saw a talking goat, being ridden my a frog convincing me to have a tattoo.’  Finally, about a mile or so from the check point, ‘I want to give up.’ That 9 times.
  4. Knowing that the challenge is doable.
  5. A blissful 12 hours sleep.
  6. The support.

Thank you to the marshals and the team behind the Lakeland 100. I’ll be back. We have some unfinished business.  Thank you also to the wonderful Twitter folk for your continued support. I’ve only a few aches and pains now, and I’m planning on going for a short bimble this evening to get back to it. I’ve also entered a couple of races.

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2 thoughts on “Thou shall not finish. What I learnt by not finishing a race.

  1. Brilliant read. 60 miles of gruesomeness does not equal failure in my book. Mud is an absolute drainer, we did 100 miles around Leicestershire in wet clay. And, as you say, get there with time to spare. No doubt you’ll be back!!

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