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!

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