Sunday, 8 June 2014

Ennerdale - English Fell Champs AL

Sometimes things go to plan. Sometimes they don't.
The weather forecast for Saturday had looked pretty gnarly for the week leading up to the race. Not in terms of rain and wind and stuff - no matter what happens with that, we'd still be running. It was the lightning storms that were more of a concern. Running a horseshoe route basically means you're going to be on the tops for most of the day, running across the high points around a valley. Not a good place to be in the midst of randomly stabbing lightning - either as a runner (moving target) or a marshal (stationary target). A lot of people had decided not to turn up for the race because of the conditions, which, theoretically meant that getting a good placing might be an easier thing to do!

As it turned out, the forecast stayed the same right up to the event, and so some quick thinking had to be done by the organisers. I'm sure that they had a contingency plan in place, but it wasn't until the legend that is Joss came over from Wasdale saying it was particularly nasty over that way that the plans really started to be implemented.

The rumours of cancellations and changed routes were rife around the race control, and I satisfied myself by listening to Daz Fishwick and Tom Brunt extol the virtues of various service stations up and down the country until the details of what was going to happen was announced.

The new route - photo courtesy of Jo Bowen
Soon enough, a new map was put up with a number of new checkpoints. It was still 19 miles long, and had
nigh on 1400m of ascent, so counted as as an AL, but it kept mostly to paths and climbed over cols as opposed to summits. We all hastily gathered around the maps with pens, hastily attempting to scribble down the new checkpoints, and in my case, finding that my cut down sized map only had about 3/4 of the actual route on. Not to worry. It was all on major paths, so navigation shouldn't really be an issue. However, the fact that it had just been changed from a long, slow grind of a race to essentially a fast trailey race with a couple of steep climbs really changed the entire feel of the whole thing. Tactics went out the window and I started to feel a little less comfortable with the idea of this as a race. I'd run a section of it a while back, and it was basically a massive fire road, not something that I'm generally comfortable running on. hmmm. As to who would win - All bets were off.

The rain came down, it got muggy and the mozzies started biting. There was much milling around, and eventually we were called to the start. A field of tussocks that we were to sprint over to gain the path where the route proper started. I was ridiculously close to the front of the pack, still with a waterproof on - I had got quite cold in the wait, and there was still a lot of pre-race chat going on within the pack as the race organiser stood at the front and said, 3,2,1 go - cue a little surge of the front 3 ranks of runners, followed by much swearing and exclaimations of surprise from the latter ranks as we charged across the start line. Over the tussocks, and to the path, a turn left and good, easy running.
Me in the middle- again thanks for the photo Jo.
I was utterly surprised when about 2 minutes later Morgan Donnelly dashed past me - a man who ordinarily would have been right at the front at the start. I settled into what I felt was a comfortable rhythm, somewhat behind Nic Barber of Pennine. I realised I was pretty close to the front, but thought that wasn't too much of a problem as I checked my pace. Along the flat part of the beginning, I was ok, and then up onto the hill I sensed a bit of tiredness in my legs, which shouldn't really have been there.
Since Jura 2 weeks ago, running hadn't really got a look in. Partially because of the Pre-patella bursitis that had been picked up, and partially because of the final 2 weeks of term being crazy busy. Theoretically I should have been rested. This little hill was proving to be a little more difficult than it should have been.

I lost a couple of places over there, and then gained them back down hill into Buttermere, not too much of a worry, as that generally tends to happen, lose a few places uphill, gain them back on the descent. nothing to worry about - but there was still that persistent feeling of something not being quite right. Maybe it was time to eat, that should sort me out. Half a Geo-bar. The group that I was at the back of started to pull away from me, and we were just about to hit the trail alongside Buttermere as Spike came past, easing into his race pace.
It was no longer raining now, and most people had shed their waterproofs a long time back, I still had mine on. Maybe it was the increased heat of that which was slowing me down~? As we battered along the shore of Buttermere, I managed to transfer most of my food from the pocket of my waterproof back into the bumbag, and take the top off- tying it around my waist, still, something wasn't quite right. I was losing time on the guys in front of me, and was being passed by person after person after person.
This was not meant to go like this.
Ennerdale was meant to be my triumphal attack on the English Champs, and maybe gain a single point by being in the top 50. The further into the race I went, the less likely it appeared to be.

By the time we hit the first major climb of the day my legs were already complaining. They felt like lead, and I simply couldn't move them fast enough. My breathing was fine, but the legs just couldn't go any faster. More people passed me, maybe it was too early in the race? Maybe I'd feel better in a bit? Struggle on to the top.

It took an age. I ate more food. I drank some water. Nothing seemed to help - there was just nothing there. The Jens Voight "shut up legs" strategy was not working and the legs were dictating the pace, not the head. At the top of the pass, just as we were about to head down to Black Sail, Dave Ward caught me up. I quite happily kept him behind me for the ascent, and overtook a good few people who had decided to keep to the slippery path, by taking some lovely grassy lines, but once we hit the bottom of the hill, by the YHA and before the climb up toward Green Gable everything deserted me.
The temptation to just turn right and wander morosely back to the start as a DNF crossed my mind more than once.
That long climb took a long long time. Dave passed me early, followed by a load more. And then some more. Jackie Lee passed me, then second lady, Jasmin was not long after.
I could barely even walk up that hill, something that 2 weeks ago, on Jura, I would have stomped up with glee. Everything was falling apart and my dream of 50th had long since passed. They say that 90% of running is mental. Well. Today I didn't have the physical, or the mental. Somehow, I had crushed myself.

Even the descent down Blacksail pass I managed to mess up, taking a terrible line, and being caught up by another 20 runners who took a much better one than me. We passed poor Tom Gibbs who had come a real cropper on the descent - apparently he had broken his kneecap into 3- we found out later- but he already had a gaggle of people helping him out. I would have gladly ditched the race to assist, but would probably just have been in the way.

What was worse, was that this wasn't the worst bit of the race, or the worst I would feel.
Getting to Black Sail YHA on this new route basically means that you now have to run all the way back along the track to the other end of Ennerdale water. It doesn't matter if you run the race, or if you retire. The route is exactly the same.
That dreaded bloody path. 

Things picked up for about 10 seconds as I realised the bloke holding the dibber point at Black Sail was Joss, and then they looked down again as we were faced with mile upon mile of track. Normally, stretching out and going fast isn't a problem. But it is if you get stitch. We hit the hard path, and I found that I couldn't stretch my legs out - If I did, I got a massive pain in my diaphragm which stopped me breathing and then slowed me down to walking pace. I effectively had a speed limiter attached to me, and ended up shuffling along at a ridiculously slow pace.
People came past.
I wasn't despondent, I was just mystified. How could it all have gone wrong? I was so strong at the end of Jura, 2 weeks ago. I had massacred the road section and overtaken a couple of people. Now, I couldn't even manage the same speed as then. What I didn't know was that there was worse to come.
The path took an age to go by as I continued to be a sitting duck for anyone that wished to pass me. At least that was semi-easy and non-treacherous running.
As Ennerdale water approached, we crossed the river and ran along the south side of the lake. A slippery
mess of rocks and tree roots.
By this point, I really didn't care. Chris and Caity were somewhere close behind me, and I could only hope that they were having as bad a time as I was. However, I certainly wasn't going to fight for places along that kind of terrain. One false step and you'd be over. Twisted ankle, gashed knee, anything really, and if I had no hope of getting a decent place, it was pretty pointless.
Slow and steady- a tick over pace. As runners came up behind me, I let them through. No point in holding them up, I certainly wasn't going any faster.
Right at the end there were 2 runners behind me. I invited them to overtake about a Kilometre from the finish, they declined, and I got that feeling that they were going to use me as a windbreak until the bitter end and overtake. I wasn't having that, and managed to hold on to some vestige of my pride by maintaining enough of a pace to keep them at bay for 500 metres. But at the end I really didn't feel like I was in the land of the living.
On a dry day, when I was in better condition, I'd have been skipping across these stones. Today was a different story. Bedraggled, bested by a lot of others, I limped in toward the end in 3:34, tail between my legs and truely knackered out.
Chris came in at 3:38, Caity at 3:40 and Carl at 4:02. I have no idea about placings.

What happened?
I have no idea.
Perfecting the thousand yard stare with Carl
Pride, as they say, comes before a fall. Maybe I peaked for Jura, and then having not run for a couple of weeks (though I have been cycling), my fitness just wasn't where it should have been. Maybe being ready for a long slow race, and then being presented with a long fast race threw me out. (the same thing happened for those that beat me - they didn't get caught out...). Maybe my nutrition before and during the race wasn't good. I really don't know, but it is something that I am going to mull over for a while. The amount of times I nearly quit, just turned around to wander home were numerous. But I kept going. The experience of being in that much of a hole, and just grinding it out was horrible. But equally it was humbling.

It is good to have those races where you really get your butt kicked. It makes you re-think, re-plan and re-evaluate. It is a chance to recognise shortcomings, rebuild and come back stronger.
Get knocked down 7 times, make sure you get up 8.

Thanks very much to the organisers for making the best of it that they could. Admittidly there were no Storms on the day, but with the forecast the way it was, there was no other option.
But Lordy. It was horrendous on the legs.
Best thing to do after a race like that. Cake. 


  1. shit happens.
    It did for me at Wasdale last year, and from 10 miles in (1st time at BS hut) it happened yesterday. You'll still have Jura in your legs. Get a good week's rest then time to start working on some speed and doing short mid-week races!

  2. I was chuffed with my 4.41! Put it in perspective we all have good and bad days. Some dayds the miles may just need a rest. Donrt beat yourself up, theres always the next race :)