‘Has he ever done anything like this before?’
The race paramedic looks up from the pale gasping fish incapacitated on the floor masquerading as an ultrarunner and across to Mrs Mouncey who is by this time, verging on the ‘somewhat perturbed.’
‘Well…’ she looks down at the pale gasping fish masquerading as her husband ‘He has a history of fainting at finish lines – a big sugar crash – but he usually recovers quite quick: sweet tea seems to work. But this…’ she waves at the thing she promised to love, honour and obey all those years ago, ‘is er, unusual.’
No shit, sister: I’m in the ‘somewhat perturbed’ space here too, y’know?
‘Here’ being the 89mile point on the Lakeland 100 www.lakeland100.com and the Ambleside checkpoint in the heart of The Lakes. Well aware I desperately needed to lie down in some shade, I’d propped myself up on Charlotte and lurched inside before collapsing like a rag doll in a quiet corner. My body however, was just getting started: My heart rate suddenly went through the roof and my breathing threatened to spiral out of control as the Heat Stroke Monster applied the final choke hold.
This the latest twisted chapter in what had been 24 hours of off-script mind-body games that I’d mostly managed to keep hidden.
Until I’d seen Charlotte and the boys here at Ambleside.
The fun stuff had kicked in early: We’d started at 6pm and it was still hot and stayed oppressively warm through the evening. I was drinking more than usual and still dripping.
The first signs of trouble came as early: I’d started slow and near the back and – god, PEOPLE!
People everywhere! Hordes at the start lining the roads and being part of a 500 strong field of runners again was vaguely unnerving. I was torn between blocking it out and taking it in so in the end I just walked and did both – which was a bit of a rollercoaster too.
‘Bit rusty with this crowds thing, then.
While I was working my way through consistently it was still all slow – I did my best to control my focus but for some reason I felt unsettled. And it unsettled me that I couldn’t figure that unsettled shit out either. The big picture was that forward progress was being made. But…
20miles came as darkness fell along with the first real nausea and stomach cramps that somewhat soured my appreciation of a stunning full moon rising behind us – and had me grumpy and even slower for the next 6miles through the mountins to the checkpoint at Buttermere.
Well aware I’d ate hardly anything and still didn’t feel like much I settled for attending to the fault light that was flashing brightest on my dashboard: I stretched out on my back on the ground to ease my cramping stomach muscles and just stayed there among the checkpoint traffic.
I wasn’t the only body stretched out either and I could hear lots of other tummy-related grumps.
Not just me then…
One final lumpy stage and 7miles would take me to the next CP at Braithwaite near Keswick and after that it becomes more runnable for a while.
This has got to get easier, right? Even if I bloody walk the next bit I can get a decent feed and recover…
In the back of my mind even I’m not sure of my powers of re-set after 6 hours through the mountains with very little fuel and lots of f**king about. First things first though: Stand up – eat something – start walking away.
I find I can get some soup down – and tea.
Lots of tea.
Then I chance it and go for a frankenfurter.
Which stays down.
Now the walking away bit.
Yep – that works too.
That frankenfurter is good shit – who knew?!
I manage to walk then shuffle then trot then actually feel like I was getting close to respectable running again on the long drop from the high point of the stage at around 600m. So I arrive at 33miles feeling the most ‘less-shit’ I’ve felt all race and even looking reasonably chipper judging by the comments from the CP crew.
Still don’t feel like eating much though – so it’s soup and tea until I put my big boy pants on and put away a small rice pudding as well.
‘Cos I know there’s trouble building if tummy keeps giving me the finger.
The other thing I notice is that I really need the sit down.
And as a rule I stay standing through a CP.
I also have rules about Eyes Front, Not Talking That Much & Preferring My Own Company – and I’ll break all those today as well.
It remains vest-only warm through the night.
The headtorch goes off at around 40miles and I’m in a pattern that I’ll hold to the big 59mile CP that is known as halfway on this 105mile route: Hike anything going remotely uphill, chug along the flats, be better than average on anything downhill, eat very little, swing between feeling okay-ish to okay-less – and be almost unbearably slow while still steadily passing folks.
It’s still almost bloody transformational compared to the first 30miles.
I find it very difficult to be consistently at peace with my present state without getting emotional leakage from my speedier races here. This is not helped by the fact that everything about my recent training indicated I was in good shape and not the Mr Misery that is currently trying to take over the party.
Or that I’ve been building up to this for 18months and it was supposed to be, well…
Er, a bit better than this??
Grind It Out mode really hits at the 66mile CP and my race dynamics change for good as I’m joined by two people I know of very well through their race achievements but don’t actually know at all:
Ben Abdelnoor is a top fell runner who also won the 50mile version here a few years ago when it was the UK Trail Running Champs, while Karen Nash is arguably the best F60 veteran ultrarunner we have racking up finishes and placings at most of the top events in Europe and this country over the years.
We’ve been crossing each other periodically during the first part of the race and we all arrive at this CP within a few minutes of each other. Ben’s on his first 100 miler while Karen and I are both way beyond that and just nursing our rebellious tums.
As we sit side by side minus any visible signs of urgency, one of the crew remarks along the lines of ‘in the presence of ultrarunning greatness…’
We look at each other and Karen says it for all of us:
‘Well, I don’t feel that great just at the moment, I can tell you.’
We hook up – and while there is some chat it’s mostly companionable silence. This, we decide, is the defining difference between the experienced folks and the newbies – so we bathe in our shared smugness and it carries us for a while.
This section takes us up and over the high point of the course and back into the mountainous stuff again. Our group rotates the lead periodically and the elastic will stretch and shorten and we still arrive at the 76mile CP more or less together. The heat has been steadily building, we’re all slow and only Ben is really eating anything like half decently.
But the mutual distraction is working to stave off the deterioration in us all that would have come earlier had we been flying solo.
So we stick with the threesome and two dodgy tummys.
It’s just really f**kin’ slow – and I have to drag myself up the next two huge climbs hanging off my poles. Fortunately Karen and Ben are locked in the same gear. Descending is better – remarkably we’re still passing people – but I know how much faster I can go / have gone on this bit and it chafes: Of my previous 5 outings in this race the last 2 have been beset by progressive power loss caused by energy depletion – and here I am again this time with tangible nausea and an even bigger disconnect between my expectations and reality.
Compassionate self-care is clearly something I forgot to pack but it seems I did remember The Fridge. It straps itself to my back which delights Mr Misery and has me contemplating the Dark Side as the heat builds to oppressive once again in the final few miles into the next CP at 82miles. Ben and Karen are already there sampling the best thing we’ve all encountered at a CP all day: Bowls of fruit salad.
Finally! Something I feel like eating AND I can actually get down.
But I can only manage one and it’s a small one at that.
Karen knows it’s curtains to linger at this stage so she heads out.
Ben and I know it’s curtains to linger but we’re both still wrestling with it.
I’m really very happy just to sit inside out of the heat with my eyes closed and a wet something over my head.
But it’s gonna be curtains: Ben and I do the ‘I will if you will’ dance which has us both heading out onto another big upward haul followed by and even longer drop into the valley below. Then another haul – then another drop.
Then Ambleside – and family.
Very quickly I find I can’t hold Ben without a huge effort and am forced to let him go.
I go full Dark Side while what feels like walking in the fires of Hell. I stopped sweating ages ago and now I’m just burning. I can soak my hat periodically but what I really need is something big enough to throw myself in – and despite this being The Lake District that option doesn’t exist on this section.
Just when you need a lake…
I am one very sorry, stumbling emotionally-fraught excuse for a seasoned competitor that eventually emerges into the outskirts of the town desperately craning ahead for the first sight of wife and boys at their usual spot.
I have to ram down a sob that threatens to burst out and choke me and I almost fall.
‘S’OK – they’ll be along the street somewhere. It’s busy – maybe they couldn’t…’
Turn onto the street – it’s packed with people and cars and… NOISE.
Crane ahead – can’t see...
‘They’ll be at the checkpoint then. S’OK…the checkpoint…’
I walk-weave between people and cars and dogs and NOISE desperately looking-craning-searching for…Charlotte – where’s Charlotte? Where…?
And then she’s there 50 yards ahead of me and control goes like that as I collapse into the nearest wall great full-body gulping sobs breaking out all over the place. And then she’s right there holding me up so I trade the wall for my wife and cry like baby all over her as our boys look on:
It ain’t over yet.
I have to walk the final 100yards to the CP through throngs of cheering people with Charlotte still having to prop me up.
Which is nice.
‘Lie down. Shade…’
‘Drags me up the steps and inside and…
It takes a wee while (and some fish and chips) until the paramedics are satisfied that enough of my lights are back on and the combination of race-long progressive energy depletion mixed with a nice helping of heat stroke is no longer a danger.
Unless I choose to continue.
And y’know? The prospect of a 16mile death march to the finish is just not something I could make matter enough.
Could I have done so were Charlotte and the boys not with me? We’ll never know.
They were and I called it.
For the record, Ben and Karen both finished – Karen to take 7th lady and top spot in her age group and Ben to record his first 100mile finish. Meanwhile at the sharp end on a day when 1 out of 3 starters did not finish, the course record of nearly 10 years standing was taken apart by some 40minutes.
After 5 finishes from 5 starts in this race I got to chalk up my first Did Not Finish.
Or Did Nothing Fatal.
And while I almost certainly will do something like this again, I’d really rather not experience something like this again.
Pass me that drawing board, will ya?
Race Video (6mins) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tT6Jd6CQ3g0