Sunday, 1 August 2010

Lakeland 100 - The Importance of Preparation - Developing Positivity and Self Belief


If you have come to my blog for the first time to read my Lakeland 100 report, welcome.  I hope you will find my blog interesting.  Take a look around.
The Lakeland 100 was my target race for the year.  Within previous posts I have commented upon What Determines Performance in Ultra Running - Part Two , and concluded "The true secret of ultra running is ensuring that positivity remains throughout the race, and is not overcome by a negative 'state of feeling/being'."  I then listed the Sources of Negative States Being Initiated from the Mind and/or Body in Ultra Trail Running, or in other words - Limitations to Ultra Trail Running Performance.  It is these sources that I addressed within my preparation for the Lakeland 100, i.e. 1) Fuel, 2) Hydration, 3) Enjoyment / confidence / self belief, 4) Muscle damage / muscle soreness.

Over my previous ten ultras I find I have pretty well sorted out what fuel and hydration works for me.  This therefore only leaves two things to focus on in terms of race preparation, and my previous post titled What Training is Appropriate? highlights reasonably well my training leading up to the race, with the key aspect to my training being the development of positivity and self belief, "absolute TOTAL belief in what I am doing is right for me."

One big advantage I have in terms of developing self belief are my previous performances, specifically my performance in Ultra Trail Mont Blanc last year, where I finished 22nd overall.  A large part of my Lakeland 100 race preparation was not to get overawed by the severity/difficulty of the course, as I find this tends to create a negative response. And whenever you experience a negative response, you slow down, you run slower.  Having ran well at UTMB, which is the toughest course I have ever experienced,  during my preparation I tried to convince myself that the Lakeland 100 'would be a breeze' compared to UTMB.

Back in May over the Bank Holiday weekend I recced the entire course, apart from the second half of Leg 10. (see Lakeland 100 Course Recce ).  During my recce, the course was bone dry, not a puddle to be seen.  Assuming that the conditions would be the same come the end of July, and that I would be able to run 'heaps' faster during the actual race in comparison to my gentle recce training pace, I put together a planned race schedule that was very quick.  This fast planned finishing time I found also seemed to help in reducing the perceived severity of the course.

In the past, when training previously for trail marathons, the focus of my race preparation was mainly physiological in terms of how many miles, how many reps etc.  However, because ultra trail running is so TOTALLY DIFFERENT, a large focus of the race preparation is on maintaining a positive state of mind which will hopefully last the entire race, and in developing absolute TOTAL self belief in one's ability! 
So lets finally get onto RACE DAY.  After a relaxing time registering, getting my pack ready, and listening to the race briefing and some interesting words from Joss Naylor, (I particularly liked his positive response when asked if he felt he could break 20 hours for the course), shortly before 5:30pm I head towards the front of the field beneath the start banner.  I am not nervous, just ready for the race to unfold.  I have a clear plan.  My preparation has gone well.  The plan is to run hard and fast, straight from the gun.  If you have read my blog before, you will know my race philosophy: "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"  Everyone slows down during ultra running, this is not a negative aspect, it just occurs, but before this occurs, I focus on enjoying running fast, running really hard over awesome terrain, within fantastic scenery.  The plan is to lead immediately from the start and to build up a significant lead.  I don't expect anybody to be as 'stupid' as me, and to start at such a quick pace, so I am confident that I will be running on my own at the start, and hopefully for the entire 103.9 miles!!!!

During the race I wear a Garmin 305 GPS watch which I set to record the split time for every mile.  Although I no longer look at the split times, or heart rate display during the race, I find the information extremely useful to help me evaluate my performance following the race.  If you click on the link below it will take you to the Garmin Connect website and will display the data for leg 1.  If you then click 'franstu' you will be able to view all of the other legs up until halfway through leg 9 when the battery ran out.  Unfortunately it took a while for the watch to track the satellites so the first 12 minutes are not recorded for leg 1.

The race starts and straight away I am running on my own.  I am running hard, heart rate trace later shows a heart rate of 175bpm, which isn't too far away from my max of 187bpm.  Not as hard as I usually go at the start, but then it is a 104 mile race!  The course quickly begins the first climb up a gravel road and then onto a single track.  I don't look behind as I run, so I do not know how far back the others runners are, but I assume that they should be a wee way back, as I reach the top of the first climb turn a sharp left turn to start a brief descent down to a car park.  I then get a real shock as I notice that two - three runners are only probably 30 - 40 seconds behind me.  Are they stupid? Nobody but me starts 100 mile ultras that quick, or maybe they have been reading my blog!

I quicken the pace on a gentle smooth track down to the car park where there is a small crowd gathered, including my wife Frances, our two boys Robert and Chris, and my brother Graham, currently over from New Zealand to cheer me on through the night.  I give them the thumbs up to indicate all is going to plan, even though I am a bit concerned about the closeness of the following runners.  I therefore maintain a high intensity up Walna Scar Road, running the entire way, apart from briefly walking the very steep section near the top.  The descent down the other side is quite difficult underfoot with different sized boulders. Determined to get a significant lead, I run as fast as I can over the rocks.  I always wear lightweight road shoes during trail races, and the lightness of the shoes aid me as I head down toward check point 1 at Seathwaite pretty quickly, with the GPS showing a 6:47 mile, which isn't too slow considering the rough terrain!  At one point as I was descending quickly over the rocks I momentarily thought am I going too quick, will this damage my legs?  I immediately put these negative thoughts out of my mind and get back to the absolute enjoyment of running fast, leading the race.

At checkpoint 1, as it was the case for all of the checkpoints throughout the race, the checkpoint staff are fantastic.  They have been waiting for the first runner to arrive, all prepared ready to go, so when I appear, there is always loads of excitement, loads of positive energy, which I gratefully accept from them.  There is something quite unique about leading a race, it is as if the positive energy you receive from volunteers, spectators,  gives you a real boost, to assist you in getting ready to head back out at the same quick pace.

I am only inside checkpoint 1 for a matter of seconds, simply to dib my dibber and consume two cups of water to wash down the High5 gel I consume immediately prior to the checkpoint.  I then slightly ease of the intensity during leg 2 as my average heart rate for the leg drops to 157bpm compared to the average of 163bpm during leg 1. Leg 2 is extremely wet and boggy underfoot, so the pace drops significantly.  It is a real struggle to run fast, nothing like back in May during my recce run.  I arrive at checkpoint2 in Boot knowing that there is no way I am going to run as fast as my planned schedule in these wet, soggy conditions. 

Although I spend loads of time planning a race schedule, with the planned time for each leg calculated with some precision, this is all completed weeks in advance of the race.  This is part of the developing positivity, self belief preparation.  I don't actually look at the individual leg planned times in the last few days leading up to the race.  My brother Graham has the time splits, and the plan is to ask him for a time check at Keswick, shortly after checkpoint 5 if I feel I need confirmation on how fast or slow I am running.  This reduced emphasis on actual split times during the race is a new development for me.  It is based on the realisation that it is better to rely on internal feedback during the race rather that any external feedback such as split times.  I know within myself if I am running well or not.  I no longer need a watch to tell me.

The stop at checkpoint 2 at Boot is even more brief.  As I don't particularly enjoy gels, I decide to slowly munch my way through a Cliff Bar during leg 2 instead.  I therefore continually sip water from my Inov8 water pack so no need for a water stop, only need to dib.  As I leave Boot I have been running for 2 hours 16 minutes.  I have no idea how far ahead I am, but I am confident that I can ease of the intensity and start running at a more realistic pace for a 100 mile race.  Leg 3 therefore goes all to plan, with the average heart rate for the leg dropping to 151bpm, but the pace still okay as the terrain underfoot seems not as wet as leg 2.   With the changed course near the end of the leg sending us onto the road rather than running along the stream I am running comfortable and it feels quite quickish.  The GPS later shows a 7:42 mile.

After the initial climbs during leg 1, leg 4 contains two significant passes to cross.  I am looking forward to these passes.  During ultra races I really look forward to the climbs, for a number of reasons.  Firstly the climbs usually result in some tremendous views, and during leg 4 the scenery was fantastic.  The sun was just beginning to / had just set so there was some amazingly light.  Secondly I like hills because you can really work hard up the hill knowing that there is usually a downhill on the other side to regain your breathe.  I also find I can get into a really good rhythms going up hills, without the worry of thinking should I be running harder, that sometimes occurs along flat sections of the course.  Although I am working quite hard up the hills (average HR for one mile uphill being 155bpm), the intention was to again reduce the intensity a bit more during leg 4.

Leaving checkpoint 4 it is now dark.  My plan was to run the first 4 legs at a higher intensity whilst in the light, and then take it easy through the night, before picking it up again Saturday morning.  Leg 5 had another tough climb.  There were also some potentially 'tricky' navigational bits.  Due to my May recce I knew the course, and so far I hadn't needed to look at the map or road book at all.  I didn't need the map again on this leg, but I did focus more to the surroundings, frequently shining my hand torch, in addition to my head torch around me to ensure I don't miss the two key turnoffs.  As I near the the small cairn and sheep scoop I have been running for close to 6 hours.  I glance behind and get my second shock of the day.  There is a torch light coming up the hill which looks no more than 10 minutes away.  Although I hadn't been getting any feedback on how close the runners were behind, I had assumed, that like in many of my other ultra races, they had dropped miles behind, never to be seen again!  Alas, not tonight.  I stay calm, I don't panic.  I decide to maintain my eased off pace for leg 5 to the top of the hill, and then pick it up a bit on the smoothish gentle downhill to Braithwaite.  I arrive at checkpoint 5 without seeing the following torchlight again.  I have a brief chat with the support crew and drink two cups of coke and two cups of water.  I hadn't really been eating much over the last two legs, I recall probably only around 3 - 4 jaffa cakes, so I think now is a good time to drink some coke.  Mixing it 1:1 with water gives it the ideal carbohydrate percentage of around 6%.

As for this race report, the approach I took during the race was to take each leg, one at a time.  I simply looked forward to the next coming leg, not thinking about any other legs that followed.  As I left checkpoint 5, I decided that the following torchlight was too close.  I had eased off to much, so this leg was going to be a higher intensity leg.  The first mile along the road near Keswick feels quite quickish (GPS shows 8:09).   I run hard up the steep climb out of Keswick and then maintain the high intensity on the gentle climb further north.  Although I try to maintain a high intensity on the descent down to checkpoint 6, the heart rate drops.  However, as this leg loops back around, it provides a great opportunity to assess just how far ahead I now am.  I see the torch lights across the valley, although only an estimate, I am pleased that the closest torch light is now definitely over 20 minutes behind.  Alot more reassuring than the close 10 minutes,  halfway though leg 5.  The split time results later confirm that during leg 6 I extended my lead from 12 minutes up to 24 minutes!

Although there is still an urgency to the race, with the other runners not that far behind, over the last few checkpoints my stays have been getting a little bit longer.  Not that I am eating their food, in fact they are a bit upset that all I seem to want is water or coke.  I eat a bit of malt cake at one of the checkpoint, although I recall I didn't like the butter, as I never have butter on anything, (my strive to be skinny!)  I tend to stay longer, more for the company.  Although I am loving every minute of the race so far, it still does get a bit lonely running entirely on my own, with only the reflective eyes from cows and sheep to keep me company.  At around check point 5 or 6 I also realise that the same chap, Martin, has been at all of the check points. He is setting up all of the dibbers.  We chat some more at each checkpoint. After the race he commented to me that he felt that I wasted quite a bit of time at the checkpoints, considering I wasn't needing to stay there as I wasn't eating their food.  I haven't calculated my checkpoint times yet, but I would presume they were probably around 3 - 4 minutes, which when you multiply by 14 checkpoints does contribute significantly to the overall race time.  Whether I think it is worthwhile to shorten the stay, I don't think so as although it costs time being stationary, I think the energy boost I get from the checkpoints, the positivity I receive from the staff as they are focused to assist the lead runner, I think is worth more than the time lost at the checkpoints.
The next two legs, legs 7 and 8 are reasonably long legs, and the aim is to run them comfortably after my hard leg 6.  I reach the top of the Old Coach Road all okay and am cruising along nicely.  Then within it seems only a few minutes, I get really tired in the head.  I begin to feel slow/weakish, a lack of drive!  It is around half past two in the morning.  It feels very similar to how I felt at around the same time in the morning during UTMB, so maybe it is something that occurs at that particular time of night!  I immediately stop running and rest for around 3 - 4 minutes during which time I eat around half a packet of chocolate covered coffee beans.  These are my emergency 'blanket'.  I then continue running very slowly, waiting for the sugar and caffeine to take effect.  Amazingly within 5 - 10 minutes, I am back to normal, and my race is back on track.  Checkpoint 7 quickly arrives and I continue my conversation with Martin, as this time I enjoy eating some of the flapjack that is available at the checkpoint.

Leg 8 starts with a gentle downhill first on the road, and then on single track.  The next section, as the course climbs up to overlook Ullswater is the most spectacular of the entire race.  The sun is beginning to rise over in the East, there are some amazingly colours, and I can see the stillness and quietness of the lake below.  I forget I am in a race and just enjoy the occasion.  Towards the end of leg 8 there are lengthy sections of gentle downhill.  It is during these gentle downhills I notice that my quads are beginning to feel a little bit sore.  I therefore ease of a bit on the downhills and therefore don't make the most of the opportunity to run some quick miles.  Upon arriving at Dalemain I am now over halfway.  I briefly consider this information, but pay it little attention as at this point of the race I am still totally positive.  I am enjoying the race, enjoying having run through the night.  It is daylight again so I am looking forward to more awesome scenery.  By thinking of passing halfway, it can start leading you to start thinking of finishing, of starting to count down the miles.  The moment this starts, everything states going downhill as negativity begins to take over.  No, the key to performance is simple, remain positive, do not let any negative thoughts develop.

Leg 9 commences and again I decide that this leg I need to up the intensity, due to being daylight again, and due to losing time on the gentle descents that I didn't capitalise on.  The results split times confirm that indeed I lost some time on legs 7 and 8, losing to 2nd place runner Andy Mouncey 2 minutes on leg7 and 4 minutes on leg8, although I am still leading by 29 minutes at Dalemain.  During the race I have absolutely no idea of how close the runners behind were, but I don't really need to know.  It is best to simply run my own race, trying to ignore what the other runners are doing.
Leg 9 goes really well, following the gentle climb there is a fast smooth descent to check point 9 at Howtown.  As I start the downhill my quads are really sore.  I decide to run faster to see if this makes it any worse.  In fact running faster makes the quads less painful.  It feels as though I am really flying the two and half miles gentle downhill to the checkpoint.  Unfortunately, the battery on my GPS watch runs at just as the downhill begins so I don't know what actual speed it was.  However, it doesn't matter as I am really buzzing again.  I joke with Martin at the checkpoint that he better not hang around otherwise I will beat him to checkpoint 10 as he has quite a long drive around!  Little did I know what lay ahead, as leg 10 was the only leg that I hadn't recced!

Upon leaving the checkpoint I realise that I am actually quite tired, my fast downhill ,(although the time splits show that I pulled away 16 minutes on Andy during the 6.8 mile leg), it has taken quite a bit out of me.  I walk sections at the bottom of the hill, skirting around the farm and up the gentle valley that I should be running.  I am pleased when the steep hill starts as then there is no choice but walking.  As I reach the top of the climb, I remember back to my recce run, where there was only 20 metres visibility and I was unable to find the track.  I therefore had to abandon the course and get to my car at Mardale Head using a more obvious track.  Again at the top of the hill, at the wall corner, I am unable to find the "obvious track L (NE)"!!!  At least today I can see the direction I need to head off in.  The next section of the course I lose loads of time as I keep on having to check the map and the roadbook, and bush bash through the bracken down to the bridge near Haweswater.  For the first time during the race the positivity is beginning to disappear.  I have a poor section along the edge of the lake to checkpoint 10, losing 17 minutes to Andy. He is now only 28 minutes behind, with 29 miles to go! Along the lake edge I am walking sections that are definitely runnable.  As I treat each leg as a separate identity during the race, upon reaching the checkpoint, I am pleased to see the end of that leg.

Leg 11 begins with some regained positivity.  A new leg, a new mindset.  I enjoy the hill as I know that everyone has to walk the hill, so I will no longer be losing time as I did during the negative mindset of leg 10.  The descent down the other side of Gatescarth Pass starts of steep, which is really painful as my quads are the worse I have ever experienced, heaps more trashed than UTMB!  As the hill flattens out, I try to keep the positive thought in my head that running faster on the descent lessens the soreness.  It doesn't seem to work I make slow progress to the next checkpoint at Kentmere.

I top up on some more energy from the volunteers at the checkpoint, I think a fig roll, plus loads of positivity, as I leave with music from the Proclaimers "Walk 500 miles" being played.  I then enjoy the climb up Garburn Pass, but I am not really moving with any great speed.  I slow even more on the next climb, but before I know it I'm at the Lakeside Store at Ambleside.  A quieter checkpoint after the real buzz of Kentmere, but a quickish top up of water in my bladder, the first time I've needed to top it up, before heading out into the light drizzle which had just commenced during leg 12.

As I start the steep climb out of Ambleside I continue to find it hard to motivate myself to run harder than a casual jog.  At the last two checkpoints I received confirmation that I was around 30 - 45 minutes ahead of 2nd place.  I know that I will not lose that amount of time before the finish at Coniston, so the mind is telling me "Go slow, there is no point in running faster, you have the race won, that was your aim!"  Although, one of the aims was to win the race, I try not to have this as a real focus as this is beyond my control.  It really depends on who turns up.  I rather focus on what I can do, so my aim for the Lakeland 100 was to run as fast and hard as I could.  This would then result in a quick time, which may then end up with me winning the race.  Probably since the start of leg 10 I haven't really been pushing it.  My mind is too much focused on the win, rather than running as hard as I can the entire way!  With lots of determined focus I start to run hard in patches, as a form of compromise with my mind, wanting me to slow.  The one mile flat, smooth section before Elterwater is a good section, as is the descent and bit of flat before checkpoint 14 at Tilberthwaite.  But apart form that, the pace is pretty slow.  Not really due to physical tiredness, although the quads are pretty sore, but more due to a lack of drive, I guess due to mental tiredness, (if we try to split the body and mind apart, although they are really all as one)!

The last leg starts even slower as overall tiredness finally takes over.  I think a lot of this is due to knowing that I am on the last leg.  The race is in the bag, no matter what pace I do for the last three and a half miles, I will win.  With this information, I find it impossible to push myself.  I usually set myself a time target to beat as a method of pushing myself to the end.  But today I aren't even aware of what my likely finish time will be.  I haven't really looked at my watch since leg 9.  This is a real pity, as if I had checked my watch, breaking 24 hours would have been an ideal target.  Instead I pretty well walk the entire way from the steps all the way to the very top, i.e. immediately before the descent down into Coniston.  I finally get moving on the downhill and then pick up a bit of pace along the gravel road, and then through the town to the finish at the school.  My family and a small gathering of people are there to welcome me in.  I cross the finish line with mixed feeling, pleased that I have won, but with disappointment at my lack of drive over the final few stages, especially the 'wimping out' approach on leg 15!

Now, over a week has passed since I finished, and there is still some disappointment, although the sense of satisfaction at winning, far far outweighs the disappointment due to not running hard the whole way.  I subtitled this post "Developing Positivity and Self Belief", so how effective was my preparation?  In terms of developing self belief, very effective.  Apart from the two brief shocks on legs 1 and 5, I never doubted my ability to remain in the front.  My "Run as fast as you can, while you can" approach, really reinforces one's self belief.  Looking at the results, the time splits confirms my view that everyone will slow down the same, no matter what pace they start at.  I gain approximately 4 minutes on each of the first 3 legs over the following group of runners in second place.  Then on legs 4 and 5, a total time of 3 hours and 10 minutes, we ran at an identical pace, so my 12 minutes gained was exactly maintained!

In terms of developing positivity to last the entire race, not so successful.  The last six legs I didn't really push it.  Although I wasn't counting down the miles to the finish, I wasn't getting the usual enjoyment from running hard, as I wasn't running hard!  My sore quads didn't really help, and maybe my over zealous descent on leg 1 may have contributed to the mega-damage that occurred to my quads.  Maybe I had developed too much self belief, as if I was in-destructible!

To summarise, the Lakeland 100 was an absolutely fantastic event.  The organisation was faultless, the atmosphere amongst the volunteers and the other runners and families was tremendous over the entire weekend.  To everyone involved, thanks for contributing to such a great occasion. 

I will sign off with a quote of mine I have referred to on a number of occasion in reference to performing well during ultra trail racing:

"Stay 'within the now' whilst racing. Focus on enjoying every moment, staying confident in that your preparation has been sufficient for the realistic goal you have set yourself, and feel assured that the fast, but comfortable pace you have started at, is correct. Listen to your own 'deep and inner beliefs', and ignore the comments, views and actions of others if they are in conflict with your well thought out and planned strategies." Stuart Mills (2010)
All the best with your preparations for your next race,


Running into Checkpoint 14 Tilberthwaite


  1. Congratulations Stuart.

    A great performance and a really well written report.

    I'm thinking very seriously about entering this next year. But not sure whether to go for the 50 or the 100??

    I'll be doing the Fling & whw again.

    Anyway thanks again for sharing your race with us. I enjoyed following your progress on the race web site from Thailand. The wonders of modern communication!

  2. Great performance Stuart and an absorbing report. The impression from your writeup is that you can get by on comparatively little water and food - it would be really interesting to know how much you drank and ate over the 24 hours.

  3. Hi Stu,

    Great performance and write up. Good to have a little chat at the start. I'm also interested to hear what a relatively small amount you seem to eat. I eat loads! What is your next target? I have Spartathlon in September. Would be interesting to see how you would fare in the Spartathlon...


  4. Sorry I did not find the time to read your report properly. Brilliant result Stu. And another win in the Series.
    And a very useful read. Even a winner goes through highs and lows. And even winning a race must not mean that you are satisfied with your run.

    I want to add something very interesting. I spoke to George Cairns after this years WHW race (he finished 3rd) and although he was considerabley slower than the year before he said he got much more satisfaction out of that (slower) race because he enjoyed that "more moderate" pace more than the faster one the year before. So for him faster is not always better! He is a wise man. Something to think about :-)

    But I admit I would probably prefer the faster run if I had the choice...

  5. Hi All,

    Thanks for the comments, I'll quickly reply.

    John, the Lakeland 100 is an absolutely awesome race. If choosing between the 50 or the 100 I would strongly recommend the 100, doing the 50 would result in only half the enjoyment!

    Hi Andy and Neil, yesterdays post I highlighted what I ate during the Lakeland 100. As I mention in the post, I didn't eat that much as I didn't feel I needed to. with regards to water though, I drank loads. At every checkpoint I would either have 3 full cups of water, apart from the first two where I was in too much of a rush, or 2 full cups of water and 2 full cups of coke. In addition I ran with an Inov8 pack with probably around 1.5 litres of water at the start, which I sipped on during the legs. This was empty at Ambleside where I added some more water for the last 3 legs.

    Thomas, yes, just because I finish first it doesn't always mean I am completely happy with my performance. I set myself various goals in races, winning is never my main goal as it is beyond my control. Running as quickly as I can is always one of my key goals, if I'm not aiming to do this, it doesn't feel like I am racing / doing my best!

  6. Opps, forgot to mention, yes good to chat at the race start Neil, and with regards to the Spartathlon? It's a road race isn't it? I no longer run on the roads now, so I will never find out how I would get on!


  7. Thanks for the chocolate coffee beans you left in lakes runner mate!!!!

  8. Hi Mike

    My pleasure, I hope you enjoyed them.