Just Get Me to the Start Line – Lakeland 50 2017

Michelle Maxwell Coaching, Marathon, Nutrition, Psychology, Racing, Recovery, Running, Ultra Marathon

I can’t describe the excitement when the email alert popped up on my phone from the legendary Marc Laithwaite, offering me an elite entry to the Lakeland 50 2017. The race is in its 10th year, and the number of entries were higher for this year than previous years, with 800 runners in the 50 mile event.

The race build up
It was always going to be a stretch for my ‘not so young anymore body’ to race 5 big events within the space of 4 months (Brighton Marathon, North Downs Way 50, 113 Middle Distance Tri, Endure 24, Lakeland 50), but a big rest through August beckoned and I knew I had a good team of family, sports therapists and friends around me.

The first 3 events went well, cramp in Brighton gave me a decent time of 3:12, but not quite on target, North Downs was a dream of winning in my fastest 50 to date, despite getting lost, the 113 triathlon proved I am capable of much more than just running, and that I can swim pretty well in open water and that I could cycle well if I put more time into it 😉

Endure 24 was a fabulous, fun team event, but still took its toll on tired legs from the Triathlon. Unfortunately, after this weekend I discovered a nasty bite had gone a bit manky and a trip to the Drs proved I had a contracted a serious infection in my arm. June came and went with numerous trips back for more antibiotics, waves of severe nausea, weight loss and an operation to remove the last of the infection from my arm. I raced in the Cotswolds Relay, but only because there wasn’t really a suitable replacement for me, this set me back a week or two I think.

Very undertrained though and around the first week of July I started to feel loads better, only 3 weeks until race day! I managed to get some decent hilly runs in, but only 18 miles max, and my left knee and achilles weren’t happy with the sudden training load. I ended up on the massage bed being pushed and pulled and pummelled in a rush to get these fixed.

The Lakeland 50 2017 – 10th Anniversary
With no more to be done, other than use my head and experience I toed the line in Dalemain with 722 other runners and fellow Harriers Richard Page and Jamie Dickinson, the latter of whom I’d coached for the event. I knew this was going to be a hard day out, and I also knew the field was stacked with some A-list trail runners. The weather had not been kind and many of the 100 runners had retired in the rain and wind overnight.

The count down with the supporters was immense, such a relaxed start with everyone chatting and enjoying the moment. The first field in Dalemain was pretty grim, but we got going eventually and I found myself alongside Jess Gray, such a lovely lady. Chatting about running, kids, and life in general.

We popped out of a field into Pooley Bridge to the glorious sight of my kids, Chris and the Dickinson family. Absolutely loved this part up until Fusedale, easy off-road running, a few muddy, wet sections, but nothing too severe. I ran into the Howton CP feeling fabulous in 6th place. Then the reality of the day hit me, the climb up Fusedale hit pretty quickly after the road hill from the CP. It was very boggy under foot, a black river of peat bog for 2,500 ft of climbing. No let up on the tops, bog after bog after bog, and all the way down, many falling around me, some-how I stayed vertical whilst grabbing bracken leaves on the very slippery descent.

I’d read lots of blogs about the Haweswater path being enjoyable and runnable, so was looking forward to getting going again, but no. It was wet, muddy and slippery, and my brain ached from the concentration. Slightly more despondent coming into the Mardale Head CP, but still in 6th place and on target for 9:30-9:45. Gatesgarth was a tough climb but not so wet, and the descent was good too, but rocky and not my strength. I might need to get some coaching myself, as although I know as a coach how to descend I can’t train myself to do it. I still hold back far too much. I lost 3 places to 3 talented ladies on this descent into Kentmere, but was still in touch with them up the Garburn Pass. At the Kentmere CP I made a huge mistake, I accepted energy drink I’d not used before as I thought it would save me some time, and I ate some flapjack, something I never do either unless I know its origin. Within 30 mins my stomach started cramping. Was it the drink and food, or was it going to happen anyway, I’ll never know. I use Tailwind and I’ve never had problems with it, but it does take time at CPs to make up the bottles. I lost the 3 ladies on the descent into Troutbeck, gutted, my stomach was griping, my knee was twinging after a slip in a bog at High Kop and my mood was changing a bit. I know the Troutbeck to Ambleside section well, so made up some time again, but still no sight of the ladies. How can they have shot off so fast? Aside my tummy issues though, my kit gave my no troubles at all. I used a new Salomon 12 set race vest, loads of room and only a sore aching back and ribs the day after, to be expected really. My Innov8 Race Ultra socks and Hoka One One Challenger ATR kept my feet in tip top condition. Nothing will be good enough in a bog, but these shoes protected my aging feet from the rocks. I used Tailwind mixed to provide the maximum calories and electrolytes and I have a tendency to cramp, Clif Shot Bloks and Powerbar Peanut butter energy bars. I had hoped to much on bananas and fruit from checkpoints but there weren’t any.

Mental Strength

I felt gutted, and my lack of miles and hill training was starting to show, with 35 miles in my legs and 6,000ft of elevation I was feeling tired and low. Ambleside was just the lift I needed, after a toilet break (one of many from here on in), Chris was there for a welcoming hug and hugs with my daughter Sophie and friend Sarah. Jamie was doing really well they told me, this made me smile, and Chris told me to get a move on else Richard might catch me. This put a rocket up my arse lol!

But only for a few miles, the stomach cramping came back and my knee was reminding me of its presence. Onwards through Loughrigg, Elterwater and to the Chapelstile CP. I have to say I was looking forward to stretching out along the Elterwater path, really runnable and lovely views, but I just couldn’t get going. I assume a lack of fuel but I felt sick and really struggled to get anything in with my stomach complaining immediately. The sofas at Chapelstile looked terribly appealing! I kept looking at them, almost taunting me. I stuck with my tailwind here and some cola, and removed myself quickly before I found myself asleep on a sofa!

Side Pass is very tricky, and the moorland section was tough going with more bogs and rocks. You could sense the change in light, and I realised my final goal was getting down the mountain before darkness and I pushed on. The bog at Bleamoss wasn’t as bad as I remembered and I didn’t fall over as on my recce. Pushing on down the hill, yo yo running with a few friendly chaps. Tilberthwaite CP I obviously looked like death, as they wanted to feed me up. I couldn’t eat a thing, so had some cola and pushed on up the steps. This last section has much more climbing than I remember and a large section of it scrambling on hands and knees. It was still just about light. I could feel the wind from the tops whistling around the corner and I knew the dreaded descent into Coniston was here. I was still with the same group and some 100 runners, we tip toed down in semi darkness, we all agreed we weren’t getting out our head torches. Then the glorious road downhill into the village. Oh my, the noise from the pubs and streets. I lapped it up after 15 miles of silence. It was pitch black coming into the school. I just couldn’t hold it back anymore, the tears flooded out. I was done! 9th lady, 56th overall and 3rd old lady.

A day I will never forget…