Not quite the marathon…

On Sunday I participated in the Vitality British 10km London Run, having been lucky enough to be offered a free place by SOS Children’s Villages.

I hadn’t been in a mass participation race since the 2011 Royal Parks Half-Marathon and I’d forgotten what it was like – the crowds of runners looking to drop their bags, the queues for the toilets (not too bad, actually). Surrounded by thousands of runners walking down The Mall, St James’s Street and finally Piccadilly, what struck me was this: every Saturday, about THREE TIMES this number of people participate in a parkrun in the UK. It’s just that, spread over the 250+ venues, the crowds are not nearly so obvious.

The start was anticlimactic. We stood, shuffled forwards a bit, then stood again. The start gantry was just about visible way down the road. Then there was a roar from the crowd and runners became visible approaching us on the other side of the street. The leaders flashed past, followed by a motley crew of runners at varying speeds. Meanwhile the part of the crowd containing me shuffled and stopped and shuffled. About 20 minutes later we crossed a bridge, walked, jogged and finally ran through the start.

Standing in the crowd, it had appeared that I was near the back, but now as we ran back up Piccadilly it was evident that thousands were still waiting to start.

I was there to run, not to race; no PB chasing. I settled into a steady run – or at least as steady as possible in the circumstances, constantly picking and weaving my way between slower runners. Up Piccadilly, St James’s Street, Pall Mall… along Victoria Embankment to upper Thames street and some odd bits in tunnels under the road and looping around, then back down the Embankment to and half way over Westminster Bridge.

I exchanged a few high-fives while crossing back over Westminster Bridge, although many people sadly ignored my outstretched hand. A final stretch down and back up Victoria Street, round Parliament Square and half way up Whitehall to the finish.

We were very fortunate with the weather. Rain was forecast for the Sunday morning, but the first light shower didn’t arrive until about 9.20 am and the temperature was warm enough that it did no harm – very different from the inaugural Greater Manchester Marathon in 2012 (four degrees centigrade before wind chill, gale force winds, heavy rain, and hail). A few other showers developed during the race, which were pleasantly cooling.

The water stations were well marked and it was warm enough that I accepted a bottle at the 3K mark, drinking a couple of mouthfuls but pouring most of it over my head and down my back – not enough cooling showers!

My ankle was fine for about four miles then twinged a bit so I slowed down until it quit twinging, gave it a few minutes then speeded up again.

Queues to get back into the baggage area appeared massive and unmoving, until I discovered that the bulk was a queue for the “Help for Heroes” tents and the rest of us could squeeze past that bottleneck. Bag, medal and a pair of bright red, white and blue shoelaces in one hand, water bottle in the other and I headed off to get the train back home.

Not exactly a proper substitute for my cancelled run in the London Marathon, but at least I’ve done ONE race this summer!

parkruns and progress

Yesterday I ran 4.5 miles in 40 minutes. A whole 4.5 miles! I only need to multiply that by eleven times or so to return to 50-milers…

Both the slow pace across the ground and the slow pace of progress in increasing mileage are frustrating, but I’m being sensible (amazingly sensible for a runner). I keep reminding myself that after six months of no running I have to expect to be slow, and that to give my injured tendon the best chance of adapting back to full use, as well as to avoid overstressing foot muscles which have done very little work while I was wearing the ankle brace, I must not increase the distance too rapidly.

However, there’s great progress in that I can honestly say that the foot didn’t ache during or after the run and is not aching today either, which is fantastic. I’ll be sticking to three runs a week for a while longer but hopefully I’ll soon be able to run with my running club again.

This last month has also seen a running first for me: I ran a parkrun on an amazing four consecutive Saturdays – unheard of for me and taking me to a grand total of 25 parkruns spread over more than three years – although I have volunteered on more than 160 occasions over the same period. The first two were at Lloyd parkrun, my home event; both weeks we had lots of volunteers so, as Volunteer Coordinator, I took myself off the volunteer roster and pulled on my running shoes. It was hard work and very good really for me to be reminded that when you’re just starting running, three miles is a LONG WAY – a perspective that it is too easy to forget when you’re running ultras. I also got fantastic encouragement from the other runners.

The next week I was away at a conference and skipped the first few papers on the Saturday morning because Eastleigh parkrun was just a few miles away and it seemed too good an opportunity to miss. I enjoyed running the course and chatting to people before and after (and eating cake – Eastleigh parkrun is famous for dressing up (they were wearing tutus for International Dance Day) and for trying to maintain “calorie neutral” status by eating cake after the run). I did have one heart-stopping moment when I miss-stepped and slightly turned my left ankle on the downhill section on the second lap, but it didn’t hurt and I was even able to go for a sprint finish.

The following Saturday we had cancelled Lloyd parkrun to make it easier for the European Disc Golf Championships being held in the park. We have a variety of parkruns in the local area so I suggested to our runners that we split up into “Lloyd parkrun on Tour” in a variety of locations; I took the opportunity to run at Banstead Woods. The bluebells I am told were past their best, but were still carpeting the ground quite brightly. I finished in 25.00, which was pleasing.

It’s still early days but I’m now feeling more hopeful that I’ll be back to long trail runs later in the year – if not quite ultras.

Actual run

Extra volunteers at Lloyd parkrun yesterday, so I took the opportunity to pull on my running shoes again.

Conditions were near-perfect for running, firm underfoot, warm enough but not too hot. I started slowly as usual and reminded myself to stay slow. Did speed up a bit more than I should have done probably, but was fairly sensible, and finished in 28.56, so 9.19 per mile.

I have to admit that it felt slow and at the same time was harder work that I had expected – but then, I haven’t run for six months so really I should not be surprised. Bit of an ache in the inner side of the left foot arch for about 20 minutes afterwards but fine later in the day, and no twinges from the actual tendon so that’s good.

Now to make sure I stick to my plan of running no more often than three times a week and not more than the 5K distance during the rest of April.

First steps (on the road to recovery)

On the Wednesday after Ladybower 50, I had a cycling accident, during which I tore my left posterior tibial tendon. Result: six months of enforced rest, five months of that spent wearing a posterior tibial tendon ankle brace – I woudn’t recommend it if you don’t absolutely need it. Irritating and painful.

This has been a boring time during which I’ve not posted because well, no running, nothing really to report. However, I was recently “signed off” by my orthopaedic consultant, allowed to remove the ankle brace, warned not to try to return to running too soon and told that if it goes really bad again and surgery is required, I have only a 30% chance of long-distance running after that. MRI shows tendon degeneration and a tear, so I will just have to see how it holds up.

So: I’ve been patient, I’ve rested. I want to RUN!!!

During the whole of the winter I’ve been swimming and doing Pilates. Once the brace was off, I started physio. A few weeks ago I walked one lap (so 2.5 K/1.55 miles) of my local parkrun. Last week I walk/jogged the parkrun in a “personal worst” time of 38.55 (but it felt great to be out there), and this week, when I was Run Director, I went out after we had processed the results and ran the course gently in about 33 minutes.

I’m still a long way from thinking about running at a decent speed, or returning to long-distance trail running. Obviously I didn’t get to do my intended two-day race at the start of February and my plans to run London Marathon (next week!) and Comrades this year are toast. However I’m daring to hope that I WILL get back to running reasonable distances within the next year.

Lastly – Ladybower!

Ladybower was the final race in my “5 x 50-milers at 45” challenge. I’d chosen this race as a deliberately “easy” run: almost no-navigation (keep the reservoirs on your left and you can’t really go wrong) and flat to undulating terrain.

The lead up to the race was not ideal, as I was at a three-day meeting away from home Wednesday to Friday and we had a six-and-a-half-hour drive to a wedding on the Saturday, but I crawled out of bed in my stepmother’s house in north Manchester at 5.15 on the Sunday morning and drove over Snake Pass, arriving at the start/finish lay-by just after 7 am and bagging one of the last three car parking spaces there, which meant I could leave all my gear in the boot of the car and collect anything I wanted as I came past – only water, bananas and flapjacks were being provided by the race organisers, as they had warned beforehand.

The weather was unexpectedly good – clear, sunny and warm, reaching about 21 °C – quite hot enough for a long run, with little wind.

Given the excellent weather forecast, the looped nature of the race and the plethora of other people about (after the first lap, anyway), I carried little other than food, water, ‘phone and car key, which made quite a difference to the other races this year when packing warm layers and waterproofs was essential. Not sure why I bothered carrying the ‘phone, given the lack of signal, but I did use it to take a few pictures – the views over the reservoirs were pleasant, and the paths were mostly wooded (giving pleasant shade from the hot sun), if also mainly hard-surfaced.

We started with a short lap around Ladybower reservoir, taking  the left path (marked and marshalled) cutting across below the Derwent Dam to return to the start in 5.5 miles, before heading back out on the trail through the woods. This time at the four-mile mark we took the right hand path and continued round Derwent and Howden reservoirs to make a lap just over 15 miles which we then repeated that twice more (my Garmin made the whole course 51.34 miles).

On the first long lap I ran for a while with Rob, a Runners World Pirate. Good company, but despite digestive system problems he was aiming for a  sub-9 hours finish and I decided he was going too fast for me, so told him to go on while I slowed to a more manageable pace for my aim of sub-10 hours. Later I passed him, walking and trying to eat but apparently having a bad time.

Came back to the car, stocked up on Kendal Mint Cake, sorted out one of my socks which had become uncomfortably folded up under my toes, went to the race tent, got checked in, got my water bladder filled (many thanks to the lady who had finished the 20 and helped by holding the bladder while I got the Elete out) and set off again.  Going through the first wooded section I nearly got cut off at the knees by the extensible lead on a dog – it would be nice if people using those took care not to get them stretched out across the path. It did seem to be my race for dogs trying to trip me up, with five or six in all who tried to do this by running across or stopping directly in front of me!

From early in the lap I was shadowed by Jane, and from about half way round we ran together. It was nice to have company, particularly over the upper section with lots of long climbs, uncomfortably stony paths and then long stretches of tarmac; when possible I got off the tarmac onto the worn path in the grass alongside the road. Towards the end of this lap Jane’s husband arrived on a bicycle and she sent him back to the car to get another pack ready with all her drinks in it. Lucky Jane! She was off on the final lap several minutes ahead of me as I had to get my drinks bladder filled with water and add some Elete (and the taps on the water containers only gave a trickle of water, so it was slow).

Really tired starting out on the third lap and was passed very early by a group of three runners, with another runner passing me a mile or so later. This was definitely the mental/emotional low point of the race for me, with my mile splits creeping upwards. However, I chatted a bit with a runner (not in the race) who was doing some heart-rate based training,  ate some Kendal Mint Cake and started feeling stronger again, managing to keep going and even pick up the pace on the flat/downhill sections, while walking all the uphill sections as briskly as possible. I now ate a piece of mint cake about every three miles, and was definitely feeling stronger. Overtook a couple more runners and then I was at 46 miles – just a couple of parkruns to go! From here I pushed myself to go faster. Saw some other runners ahead and was determined to pass them, particularly the West Bromwich Harriers who had passed me at the start of the lap!

I did that, kept pushing and gritted my teeth to run the final slope up to the finish, clocking in at 9.50.40.

 Jane was sitting in the finish tent, having come in only about 10 minutes in front of me. One of the helpers gave me water, and there were some cold chips which tasted delicious – this was the first time I’d done a 50-miler without some savoury food and I’m not intending to do that again.  Collected my bright yellow “Labybower 50-miler “ T-shirt, ate some more chips and cheered in the next few runners, including the Harriers. It’s always great to cheer in other runners, although I thought the guy who did a big sideways and upwards leap as he finished had way too much energy after that distance! Hobbled down to the car to put on some warm clothes, and a very nice lady who was there supporting one of the other runners, and had been cheering each of us as we passed the finish and as we passed the four-mile point, kindly took some photos of me.

I made a slow, painful trek down to the main car park where the toilets were, and discovered that the food kiosk was still open; the cheese and onion toasted pannini, vanished before I’d finished shuffling back up the hill to the lay-by!

The last runner I saw finish was Rob-the-Pirate. Unfortunately I was just too tired to get out of my car and walk back up the length of the lay-by to congratulate him properly, but I did pause as I passed the finish tent, wind down my window and call my congratulations; it takes real guts to keep going when it’s all gone wrong.

Lakeland 50 – Trails and Teamwork

The Lakeland 50 (or “Ultra Tour Lake District 50″) was always going to be the most demanding of my five 50-milers this year, particularly in terms of the terrain (more than 3,000 metres of ascent and descent, a lot of stony trails with easy-to-trip-on rocks), but also due to the need for navigation and the strong probability of this being compounded by finishing the last miles in the dark. All of these were definite challenges on the day.

This was also, however, the route most likely to provide outstanding views (weather permitting), it was in a location – the Lake District – which I love, and it’s the race which lured me into ultra running, when I first heard about it and thought “I want to do that!”

On the day, all of the above, and more, were incorporated into an amazing experience.

Like many competitors, I suspect, I spent the weeks before the race scanning the weather forecast daily, rejoicing when it appeared we would not be running in temperatures up in the high 20s, and then shrugging philosophically when it became apparent that it would probably rain: this IS the Lake District; rain is expected.

As recommended, we (my husband came with me) arrived in Coniston on Friday evening, booked into our B & B – a lucky find online three weeks before the race (“I suppose I ought to find somewhere for us to stay”) due to someone else cancelling, and went to register. This involved being weighed (and acquisition of a lime green wristband with my weight written on it in indelible marker), identification/registration, kit check (at which I was advised to actually carry a back-up bottle of water, if possible, not just always intend to have extra in my drinks bladder), hand-over of goodie bag (including UTLD buff, bottle, and SIS energy products in a black drawstring bag), and finally acquisition of another band round my wrist, this one attaching the SportsID dibber which would be used to check me into each of the aid stations. With everyone wearing these wristbands, wandering around Coniston in the evening it was easy to spot fellow runners – not so much a “Band of Brothers” as a “Brotherhood of Bands.”

We considered having supper in the Black Bull, but they were quoting a 45-60 minute wait for food, so we went over the road and had a very nice pizza before going back to the Bull for a beer and a natter with one of the other runners. Back in our room, I did my usual obsessive double-check that I’d got everything ready for the next day, including last moment realisation that I’d not yet put my phone into its waterproof pouch and into the backpack, before we settled down to sleep at about midnight.

Heading down to breakfast – officially started 08.15 but the owners kindly fed us at 7.30 – I ran into Susan, who I met previously when we were both staying in the same Ambleside B&B on one of the recce weekends. She was going to be walking the 50. Her husband thought her crazy but was supportive – rather like mine, really!

Morning briefing, including a reminder that the compulsory kit was carried for our own safety, not to satisfy the sadistic impulses of the organisers and slow us all down, then onto the coaches for the long trip to Dalemain. I ended up sitting next to Sue (not the same as the Susan mentioned earlier) whom I’d also met on the recce weekends. She was wearing her Hokas, which she’d first tried out on the final recce five weeks ago. It was during this ride that I realised I really should have put more fluid in my drinks bladder – I’d calculated for Dalemain to Howtown and not considered the two hours of coach ride and standing about before the start…

At Dalemain, while standing in the inevitable queues for the Portaloos, we cheered on each 100-mile runner as they came into the checkpoint. Finally, with 10 minutes to go, some sort of signal passed and we drifted towards the start, “dibbing in” as we entered the roped-off holding area. A few runners tried to duck in half way down the pen and had to be sent back to the top to the dibbers. By this time I’d also met up with Emiko (who I first met at the 2012 London Ultra, and had seen on the recces), and we set off together. I clutched my route  book and map, but I have to say I didn’t use the map at all on the day and didn’t really use the route book until the later stages.

The loop round the Dalemain estate was hot, my left foot was aching, as it had been on the bus, and my pace was slow. We were running across fields, with some rutted ground, hidden in grass, to trip the unwary, and some stiles to hold everyone up. Emiko soon started to pull ahead of me. Across the fields, through Pooley Bridge and then up the long incline onto the fell. The sun was quite hot in the first few hours and I was very glad I’d chosen to wear my Halo headband (I didn’t get any sweat in my eyes) and my Rohan baseball cap with a cloth section which drapes over the back of the neck. Several times when we passed a stream I dunked the hat in the stream and put it back on soaking wet, which did help to cool me a bit.

In the Dalemain-to-Howtown section I was just following other runners, which made for ease of navigation, but I would have no idea where I was going if I tried to recce that section alone! The inside of my left foot really was aching on this section (although no more than it had been doing in the bus) and I started to worry whether it would hold up for the rest of the race. Also in the last mile or so the pad on my right foot (I’d put pads over both Achilles’s tendons, to prevent any problems with pressure points or “invisible blisters”) started to rub on the inside of the ankle. However, I got to Howtown with a few mouthfuls of fluid still in my drinks bladder, saw Emiko, grabbed drinks, filled the bladder (adding my Elete electrolytes), ate a flapjack, and Vaselined the sore area on the right ankle to reduce the rubbing, which stung worse initially but then seemed to help. The crew at Howtown had put up a mixture of inspirational and funny slogans on the route in and out, including “It seemed like a good idea in September…”

Out of Howtown and into the first real climb over High Kop and the highest point of the course at 670 m, then into the descent, first gradual, then after the right turn (vaguely marked by a few stones, not really a cairn) more steeply descending towards Haweswater. At this point I was very glad I’d done the recce five weeks ago, as this all looked familiar and I definitely remembered bits like the gate through the deer fencing, and the scramble down the boulders near the waterfall, so I was sure I was on the correct path, although it looked very different with five extra weeks of luxuriant growth by the bracken, which was high enough that there was increased risk of tripping over stones in the trail, as you couldn’t see the actual ground ahead of your feet.

Onto the flat section alongside Haweswater, 6 km (nearly four miles) where you’d think you could get a decent run, but keep losing your rhythm to climb over boulders. Had my first bad trip-and-nearly-fall, but managed to run out of it. Also had an amazing experience: a lizard, only about six inches long, crossed the track ahead of me and I had to pause for a second to let it finish crossing. This section is single-track, making passing people difficult, but everyone was very good about squeezing to one side if a faster-moving person came up behind. I felt somewhat guilty when this was 100-mile runners giving way to me, particularly when I knocked against someone’s green walking pole (really sorry about that!) but I made sure to thank each person as well as calling extra encouragement to the 100-milers. One woman I passed had run out of water, with still a couple of miles to go to Mardale Head, so I gave her my emergency 300 mL bottle; the fluid in my drinks bladder lasted me fine and it wasn’t empty when we reached the checkpoint. I saw Emiko here (just about ready to leave the checkpoint as I arrived), for the last time before the finish.

After drinking water and soup and filling my drinks bladder (and refilling my emergency water bottle), I grabbed a cheese sandwich and headed back out – on another long climb up Gatesgarth Pass, before a descent and another climb – lots of those on this course! It was somewhere along here that I had to drive away some freshly-shorn sheep which were getting much too interested in the gate that runners were passing through. Kentmere Institute had some good food, including fruit smoothies, but some awful music, which drove me back out as quickly as I could grab the food and refill my fluids – this was where I first met Sheila, who also didn’t like the music. Then it was up again to Garburn Pass before the long gentle descent to Troutbeck – along this section I was able to call ahead and assist one of the 100-mile runners not to take a wrong turning. The rain came down very hard for a while and I put my jacket on while the rain lasted, despite the heat, to avoid the risk of being soaked through and having the temperature drop a bit later (I’ve skirted hypothermia before and it’s no fun). Up again then down through Skelghyll Woods, where a runner called from behind that I was taking the wrong path but I yelled back what I’d been taught on the last recce: the right path after Jenkins Crag is a longer route but less steep and a lot easier to descend. He thanked me as he passed: “this path is much easier!”. Then into Ambleside, running through and being cheered by lots of people, and to the checkpoint, first being met by my husband, then up the steps (!) into the Parish Centre, which had some good food but was hot and again filled with loud music, so I didn’t linger.  A quick kiss from Aidan and I was off again, telling him to expect me in Coniston about 90 minutes or so after I left Tilberthwaite.

Through the park and up the track to Loughrigg, a path very familiar to me from lots of walks, then after the stepping stones diverting left alongside the wall. I was determined to keep Sheila in sight on this bit because on the last recce I’d got confused by the lefts and rights at the end and I didn’t want to be alone when I met the junctions again. In the end we were both hesitating but another runner said “this way!” and we followed him – and I think I’ve got that bit mentally sorted now. Sheila dropped back for a while due to a call from her seven-year-old daughter, and I ran alone for most of the section alongside the river, although with some other runners a little way ahead for most of it. I was pleased to discover I knew this part of the route well by now. Sheila caught up with me towards the end and spurted ahead in the last couple of hundred yards to the checkpoint at Chapel Stile.

Here Sheila and I decided that as were travelling about the same speed, and it was getting dark, and two heads would be better than one for navigation, we’d buddy up. We were shortly joined by another woman (and forgive me, but I’m having real problems remembering everyone’s names) and climbed up to the summit of Side Pike Pass together. The rain picked up again and I paused to get my jacket on. This was a section where I was very grateful for my previous recces, as at the pass I remembered exactly where the route went so we crossed the road with confidence and turned off at the footpath sign sure we were on the correct path. We were even able to jog some sections! At the far end of Blea Tarn I’d somehow forgotten about the woods (Sheila remembered them) but did remember not to continue on the path over the bridge but rather to veer right through the gate for the interesting bit contouring around the hill and through the bracken, making sure to stay above the bog. Horrible footing of boulder-strewn path overhung by concealing bracken, but we navigated it well, through the final bit of impossible-to-avoid boggy ground and straight over the road to the dibber point, hitting it dead on. Looking back, we could see lots of headtorches of other runners traversing the hillside behind us. By now we were in a group of about six and we ran down the road and over the stone bridge to head up the track towards Tilberthwaite. It was along here, I think, while passing the National Trust Cottage, that I helped a toad across the road so it didn’t get squished by all the feet. (Sue told me that later there were lots of them).

Into Tilberthwaite aid station and we didn’t hang around very long before setting off up the steps. We nearly went wrong at the “where the path splits into three” as Sheila was moving well and didn’t notice the path junction but thankfully I saw it, called Sheila back, checked that yes, there was a third path heading to a quarry, so we took the middle path onwards and (what else!) upwards. As we climbed we were joined by several more runners until there was a group of six to eight of us again, all very pleased not to be up there in the dark alone. Sheila out in front found the little “lone tree” and we crossed over the beck and continued, jogging where the path was clearer, walking where it was more broken. Some runners were much more confident on the broken terrain than I was, particularly as we headed down the far side, and they pulled ahead. Pausing a moment and looking around, there was an amazing broken line of gleaming head torches winding down the hillside both above and below us. As we reached the clear trail and I looked at the roadbook one last time to double-check that we were headed in the right direction, one of the others said “this way!” and everyone else went pelting after him. By the time I’d closed the roadbook and looked around they were well in front. It was a bit surreal running down the track, with occasional glimpses of reflective bits on the backs of packs, and lots of twin reflections from the eyes of sheep sheltering against the wall by the side of the road – they had obviously worked out that the mad humans were mostly harmless, and barely bothered to look at us as we passed.

Finally I was on the last bit of road, running past the Black Bull, over the road bridge (thank you to the people quietly supporting from the shelter of the garage), down the road to the school and under the finish gantry, dibbing in before looking round for my husband. On into the hall, to the applause that was given to each finishing runner, wrist bands cut off, I collected my timing report (finished in 13.23.37, 188th out of 587 starters), medal and T-shirt, and looked for Aidan again. Still no sign, inside or out, so I called and found he was just leaving the B&B – I’d been faster than I’d expected over the last hill, taking only 75 not 90 minutes.

The next hour or so was spent having my photo taken by my husband, greeting people  – Sheila, whose husband was stll out on the course somewhere; Emiko, who had got a bit lost but got back on route; the hundred-mile runner I’d helped with directions on the path down towards Troutbeck -  cheering each runner as they came in, eating a yummy baked potato with cheese, followed by ice cream with tinned mandarins, and generally unwinding before we walked back out into the rain and slowly up the road to the B&B, where I stumbled into the shower before heading for bed and – well, I wish I could say sleep, but my feet ached (less after Aidan gave them a bit of massage), and my left knee ached, and I barely dozed between 3.30 and 7.30 when I finally gave up trying, got dressed, and went down to ask for some newspaper to stuff my shoes!

Best bits: the views, the amazing lizard, the companionship and cameraderie.

Worst bits: the sapping heat at the start, the final dark descent  over the rocks – I hate that path even in the light.

Will I do it again? Probably – I’d like to tackle it when fully fit and properly trained, see if I can come in at under 12 hours.

Next: Ladybower 50 - just eight weeks to go!

Lakeland 50 – the big recce weekend

This weekend I headed up to the Lake District for the big Recce weekend. With just five weeks to go before the Lakeland 50, this was a final chance to recce the route and confirm I was happy with my choices of shoes, clothing, equipment etc. It would also be a test of how much my left ankle (posterior tibial tendon injury) had improved with the physiotherapy I’ve had and the exercises I’ve being doing over the past few weeks. I’d managed to book into the same B&B I’d used for the previous recces, and I was lucky to find a parking space nearby when I reached Ambleside.

Billed as Dalemain to Ambleside the first day and Ambleside to Coniston the second day, Saturday morning actually saw us dropped off at Pooley Bridge, the organisers having decided we didn’t really need to recce the Dalemain to Pooley Bridge section across the fields. We were also advised not to bother dropping down into Howtown, as that checkpoint wouldn’t be manned for the recce. This reduced the distance to about 27-28 miles for Saturday, with Sunday about 15.5 miles.

The weather forcast was for “changeable” weather, which in the Lake District generally means that it’s going to vary between raining and about to rain! Saturday morning I opted for wearing my waterproof jacket from the start, but it was warm enough that I decided to stick with just shorts on my legs. After the usual rituals of lubricating all possible areas of friction with Body Glide or Vaseline I joined the more than 100 runners huddled around Zefirellis in Ambleside. I’ve never seen so many Montane Minimus jackets in one place at the same time – it looked like half the runners were wearing them, which isn’t surprising because they really are lightweight and waterproof, as well as being about as breathable as you can get in a waterproof jacket.

On both days runners set off in a rather staggered manner due to the queues for the toilets, so navigating rather than following other runners was important from early on. On the Saturday I was on that section of the route for the first time. I had some problems with the navigation, particularly in the section over Big Kop and Little Kop, as did a number of other runners I spoke to. The general agreement was that the directions would have benefited greatly from more distances being stated, as sometimes two instructions together meant two points just metres apart, while in other cases they meant two points half a mile or more apart. Thankfully I was always able to wait for someone who had either done the route before or had GPS with them, and get assistance.

For about the second half of the day I ran with Gary and Simon for much of the time, also with another Gary part of the time. The first Gary had run the Lakeland 50 last year and was confident about the route. He encouraged both me and Simon to work out the directions for ourselves , but was there to confirm or to explain if we were hesitant or going wrong, which was really useful.

On the Sunday, from quite early on I ended up in a group with Emiko, whom I first met at the London Ultra in January 2012, and saw at the November night recce, and two women who had previously staffed a waystation for the Lakeland 100 (and had a great story of a lost runner turning up at about 1 am, several hours after the checkpoint had closed) and are aiming to run the 50 in a couple of years. It’s particularly important to know this section because on the day most runners (except the fastest!) will be navigating this in the dark and I was pleased that, apart from coming off Loughrigg where there there’s a succession of left-right-lefts at track/road junctions and I was losing count as to which I’d got to, I navigated this section very well. I was able to show the others several points where I’d previously gone wrong or needed assistance in the dark, so that they would know them for future occasions. We didn’t hurry, but made sure we all understood the instructions and confirmed with map and compass. This made for a slow time, but I was much more confident that I’ll be able to navigate on race day – and the others indicate they were pleased with the route finding as well. On the final descent from Tilberthwaite to Coniston we were passed by a proper fell runner who was practically flying down the hill, accompanied by a border collie. Made me realise just how much I don’t know about descending!

My clothing choice worked well on both days. It rained more than half of the time on the Saturday, and got quite windy, but jacket kept my top half dry, which kept me warm enough even with bare legs. When it wasn’t raining I mostly took my cap off, enabling extra head loss through my head, as well as sometimes unzipping the coat and pushing the sleeves up above my elbows. Sunday it seemed colder at the start and I started off with windproof trousers on but took them off after less than a mile. Probably on the Sunday the windproof jacket would have been adequate, but at least with the waterproof jacket I could pull the hood up when the brief windy showers came, which stopped my cap blowing off.

My left ankle, I’m pleased to say, coped very well with the running / climbing / descending on both days, although I was taking it easy, particularly on the descents, to avoid stressing it. The padding I’d taped on over a pressure point on the back of the left heel also worked, although it did rub the skin a bit, resulting in a couple of linear scratches. Hopefully the pressure point will have settled in the next few weeks and I won’t need the padding on the day – although I’ll carry it in case it flares up.

The views were great and I was able to appreciate them much more than when I ran Ambleside-Coniston in the dark (!) or in the snow - when I was watching my footing on the snow and ice too much to be able to appreciate the scenery very much.

I finished the weekend by giving Emiko a lift to Windermere Station on my way out of the Lake District, then back to Manchester and to the train station to head home.

All in all, a successful weekend. Next: Lakeland 50!