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.