Friday, 1 August 2014

The Lakeland 50 - I am Alpha Male

I am trying to get You Tube to download this pesky piece of video, and it just won't play ball. The link from You Tube takes you to some weird 3 year old laughing his head off when I try and embed it into this blog.  I really want this to be seen and so I am going to persevere.  Will you please click on the link or, if that doesn't work, copy and paste and put it into your search engine and watch this sublime song performed by my friends Steve and Michelle?

Lovely, isn't it? And it's a song about the sea.  Perfect, because it fits in with my insistence on starting each post with a nautically themed song which confuses people when they get to the blog and read the first post.  Isn't Michelle's voice incredible?  Compare it with the Tim Buckley or This Mortal Coil version and, in my humble opinion, it beats them hands down.

Anyway the reason for all this is is that I was heading up to Coniston for the Lakeland 50.  Steve and Michelle live in Windermere   Steve is an old school friend and played guitar in a band at the school which was a really cool thing to do and 32 years later I still think it's really cool and I am delighted that the cool kid from school gave me two cups of tea and, when I wouldn't leave the house, had to let me stay for an evening meal.  He hasn't stopped playing guitar since school, so you can imagine how talented he is.  After the meal (that I demanded) and in between demanding other things I also demanded that Steve play the guitar to entertain me.  So he started plucking away at the strings and then from my left Michelle began to sing in that amazingly haunting voice she has. It was truly beautiful. A voice that would carry beautifully across the waves. I hadn't expected this and a duet sung at a table is a very powerful thing. Let's get this straight, I do macho sport stuff and I want to be Alpha Male and hunt fish and shoot things and carry a briefcase and scare people in business meetings whilst sitting with my legs wide open and scratching my arse; but as they performed this beautiful duet I could feel this prickling sensation at the backs of my eyes and the start of a sniffle in my nose.  Some people might say these were tears, but I reckon it was pollen in their garden.  Damn you sensitive, creative, musical types.  Stop undermining me!

Crap view from Steve and Michelle's house

My own private gig. Song to the Siren

The following day I was back to being a hunter-gatherer ready to man-up to the Lakeland 50.  I did this last year and really enjoyed it.  I finished comfortably in the top half- 192nd out of 583 but in a time that seems slow - 13 hours 26 minutes.  But it's a tough, tough course - literally up, up, up and a bit of down.  Paths can be indistinct and they are rock strewn so you have to be incredibly careful.  I was very aware this weekend that one turn of my ankle could finish my Arch to Arc attempt.  That is some pressure when competing.

"Selfie" before the Lakeland 50.  The last time I was to look happy for the next 14 hours.

We were bussed out to a place called The Delmain Estate from which to start the run back to Coniston.  It took over an hour and a half to get there which should have had my alarm bells ringing.  By the time we set out the temperatures were well into the high 70's and there was no breeze at all.  Even higher up in the fells there was no air-flow and the temperatures remained high.  Once we'd dropped into the valleys the heat became unbearable.  I got to the 20 mile stage and Checkpoint 2 and I just wanted to stop - jack the whole stupid thing in.  I wanted to tear my disgusting, sweat and dirt stained running gear off and walk away.  The smell of electrolyte drink seemed to permeate everything and drinking it just made me retch. Whenever the route passed a tarn I wanted to throw myself into the coolness of the water and  escape this pain and debilitating heat.

I think I spent about 6 hours in a state of excruciating discomfort.  Between 20 and 35 miles I couldn't keep any food down, but kept trying to eat.  To stop eating is the quickest way to exit any endurance event, but so often nausea makes food the lowest priority on the list.  Even liquids stop working.  No drink made me feel right.  I even threw up after cups of tea, and I love tea during an event.  It is a taste-neutral drink and normally has uplifting properties. 6 hours is a very long time to spend in the "jumping off zone".  Would I have given up?  I doubt it, but all the way my head was telling me that this was horrible- awful - it had to stop. I have learnt to ignore my head's stupid self-centred whining and I guess I intuitively knew that it was just throwing its toys out of the pram once again.

As gradually as the pain and discomfort had started, it just as gradually left me.  Departing from Ambleside at the 35 mile mark, the sun had gone down, it was much cooler and my body made one of those incomprehensible re-adjustments. It went back to felling "okay". My fastest section was out of that checkpoint and on to the next, when I fell into step with two guys called William and Andy.  We ran the remainder of the route together, encouraging each other, supporting each other but without actually having any meaningful conversation with one another.  5 hours together and I couldn't tell you a single piece of information about either of them.  Maybe that's because I was too busy telling them about ME!

At about 1.30 we hit the road into Coniston and back to Race HQ and the glorious finish.(Just in case you are a normal, well balanced individual who wonders why anyone would do this to themselves, run 50 miles in searing heat and experience that moment of crossing the finish line.  It is sublime). This year I was 30 minutes slower but still comfortably in the top half of the field.  Okay, "comfortably" is most definitely not the right word, but you know what I mean; 232nd out of 603.  The winner did it in something stupid like seven and a half hours but he must have been an alien visitor dressed as a human who had ingested some serious, heavy duty amphetamines .

I had my wash bag and clean clothes waiting for me and hobbled back to the port-a-showers.  They were disgusting, but it still ranks as one of my all time Top 10 showers.  Trust me I have had some great showers in my time and I know a bit about Triton and Mira showers to tell you that this was a sublime cascade of beautiful warm, cleansing water.

So that's it.  My last really big and serious run before the Arch to Arc.  I couldn't have picked anything more torturous or testing.  I didn't pull out despite 6 hours of my befuddled brain demanding I desist immediately from this stupidity. It is a confidence builder, but I forget just how tough this stuff is at times.  The race organiser gave some great advice to us before the Lakeland 50.  He basically said that he reads a lot of motivational stuff on our Facebook pages: all these comments about how we like a challenge and like to face adversity.  All well and good he said, but he then pointed out that most of us turn up to an event with some target time we want to beat (me!) and an expectation that things will run smoothly to allow us to do this.  When that doesn't happen, that is when most people pull out of an event. We have signed up to a challenging event and are surprised when it meets that expectation and many of us can't handle it.  I thought this was really well put and he finished by describing his definition of conquering real adversity; Real adversity is when you arrive at an aid station two hours behind your expected time.  You are beaten up, nauseous and you can't stand up.  You have to sit for an hour at that aid station hoping that with enough food and liquid your body will begin to function again.  If, after all that, you can get up out of a chair and stagger on with only the thought of getting to the next checkpoint, not the finish, in your head, then you have really conquered adversity.  A well made point.  Reflecting on that, I didn't have a bad day after all........

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