Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Lakeland 100/50 Recce Weekend - The Ultra-Friendly Ultra-Trail Community


Tonight I would like to report on the Lakeland 100/50 Recce Weekend that I attended last weekend.  The recce weekend was put on by the Lakeland 100/50 organisers Marc and Terry, along with their hard working band of helpers.  It consisted of a 28 mile run on the Saturday, and a 16mile run on the Sunday.  But what was probably the most demanding in terms of endurance was the 95 minute presentation by 'Yours Truely' - UltraStu's views on The Final Five Weeks of Preparation!  Yes, I was meant to talk for one hour, but somehow got my pace judgement totally wrong, started far too slowly, and keep on going at a slow pace, so went well over my predicted finishing time!!!   Well at least it is better to go over time during a talk than during a race!

So firstly, many apologies to the 50 - 60 runners present at the Ambleside Village Hall on Saturday evening.  After a tough 28 mile run, it was great to see that everyone's preparation must be going well as no one fell asleep, much more than I can say for my University students that attend my biomechanics lectures!!!

The recce weekend started as we boarded the two coaches to take us from Ambleside to Pooley Bridge, which is 2 miles into leg 9 of the 100, or 6 miles into leg 1 of the 50.  As we alight the bus, there is still the queues for the toilets, just like for a race, but there isn't the GO of a race start.  So gradually over probably a ten minute period around 90 runners start their journey back to Ambleside, running off in their own time typically in small groups of 5 - 10 runners.  As an indication of what was going to occur during the whole weekend I was busy talking to other runners, so was therefore one of the last runners to head off in a small group.  As we climbed up the first rise, myself and another runner Barry, who I had got talking to, slowly moved ahead of the group.  We found we were wanting to run at an identical pace, so as it ended up, we ran together, chatting non-stop for the whole 28 miles!

The recce run first covered the remaining 5.19 miles of leg 9, which took Barry and I 43 minutes and 5 seconds to complete, not that it was a race!  I wore my Garmin GPS watch during the weekend, so apart from where I forgot to start the watch until around 5 minutes after leaving Kentmere on leg 12, the GPS files which can be found on Garmin Connect all show the correct race route, (apart from a slight detour along the road at Skelwith Bridge Hotel, a new change to the 2011 route).  Click http://connect.garmin.com/activity/95173720 for the leg 9 file, and then click franstu near the top left of the page to access the other legs.

As we departed Howtown I remembered back to the race last year, and specifically that leg 10 was a real struggle for me.  Not only did it seem to take forever to reach the highest point of the race route at around 665 metres, but once I had finally reached the top I couldn't find the track across the top and then down to the footbridge near Haweswater.  Well it was totally different last weekend.  Before we knew it we had reached the top, then with the aid of a GPS device of a fellow runner with the race route programmed in, we were able to follow the exact path down to the footbridge.  It definitely is heaps quicker sticking to the path.  Although I am not running the Lakeland 100 this year, however, with the intention to do it again in 2012 (I presume on the night of the Olympic Opening Ceremony), finally knowing the correct path to take on this leg, the only part of the course I didn't exactly know, made the long trip from Brighton up for the recce weekend more than worthwhile.  Upon reaching the track alongside Haweswater, whether it was a result of the satisfaction of now knowing the way, or maybe in response to discovering that I would be racing against Barry in two weeks time at the IAU World Trail Challenge over in Connemara, Ireland.  Whatever the reason, the pace significantly picked up for the 4.5km until the end of the leg at Mardale Head.  During the 2010 race, the leg took me 2 hours 52 minutes, running chatting with Barry on Saturday only took us 1 hour 45 minutes, quite a difference in pace!

After a bit of flapjack and cake, the two of us continued on our way.  During legs 9 and 10 we had caught and passed quite a few runners, so as we started leg 11 we could not see any runners in front of us, however, Terry at the checkpoint informed us that around five or so runners had already passed through.  Not that we were racing or anything, but the idea that there were some runners 'to catch' I think briefly crossed both of our minds.  So the two of us kept the pace reasonably steady, and as we were descending down to the Kentmere checkpoint we caught up to some runners and then came across a few more at the checkpoint,enjoying some more cake and drink provided by the organisers.  Just as we arrived, the group of runners at the checkpoint must have been talking about 'beginning to struggle', so as we arrived, I was greeted with a "Here is the man to ask about keeping positive!".  They had read a few of my posts, so there was some good banter about positivity, especially as the rain had just got a bit heavier after only being a light drizzle and even clear on occasions earlier.

We all left the checkpoint together and walked steadily up the next climb.  Throughout the weekend I met so many different runners that I can't recall all of their names.  But there was a South African chap, (sorry I've forgotten your name!), who had completed Comrades Marathon ten times, very impressive.  Then there was David, who looked like he belonged in the scrum of a rugby pack, not your typical ultra runners build, but obviously extremely fit since it had taken Barry and I so long to catch them.  Also a chap called John, like the South African chap, quick with the wit regarding positivity!

By the time we reached the top of the climb, Barry was itching to get moving more quickly, so he substantially ups the pace, and the two of us start the long gentle descent but over rather rough terrain down to Troutbeck.  As I am not running the Lakeland 100 this July I was able to pass on to Barry all of my tips about running the race route.  Having run with him for over five hours, and hearing a little bit about his achievements, if you want to put some money on who will win this years race, then Barry could be a good bet!  Keeping in mind that I would be racing Barry in two weeks time, I thought this long descent would be a great opportunity to see what is descending was like over rough terrain.  So with a bit more focus, I set a reasonably quick pace, which resulted in Barry taking a small tumble.  Just to confirm his downhill ability, the pace increased even more, and I slowly moved away from him over the next five minutes.  As the track flattened out Barry rejoins me with a bit of friendly banter about 'attacking him while he was down"!  We continue chatting and running together and before we know it we are enjoying a coffee in the cafe above the final checkpoint for the day at the Lakes Runner Shop. 

It isn't long before we are joined by more runners, and there is a real buzz of positivity within the cafe.  Although we have all run a pretty demanding 28 miles, you wouldn't know it, as there is just so much energy and enthusiasm about.  I learn that the 'rugby player' is actually an ex-long distance kayaker.  Apparently he can kayak a marathon (albeit downriver) faster than he can run one!  Seeing the pace he ran over the weekend all I can say is that he must of been a pretty awesome kayaker!

Day two of the recce was equally as enjoyable as day one.  For the Sunday it was only legs 13, 14, 15 of the 100 or legs 5, 6, 7 of the 50.  I again start off slowly as we depart Ambleside on the journey to Coniston.  I find myself chatting to various runners and then after a wee while I find that I am just moving that little bit quicker than then, so I tended to leave them behind, before catching up with the next group ahead.  This is repeated a few times until I find myself running with two chaps (Steve and Jason?) who are going pretty well the same pace as me.  Halfway during leg 14, we are overtaken by a group of runners, (including the Rugby Lad and the Comrades King), who apparently had gone off course and had to wade across a river.  Whether they were running fast to get themselves warm, or maybe they were putting into practice, some of the messages from the previous night's talk, such as "re-evaluate your self perceptions, raise your expectations", whatever the reason they weren't hanging around.  After a slightly quicker than planned 28 miles with Barry on day one, I decided that the enjoyable chat I was currently in the middle of would take priority, so let them 'sprint' off into the distance!

For the remainder of the recce, the three of us run together, and although not as quick as the guys that overtook us, we weren't really taking our time.  The last leg of 3.43 miles, up and over the final climb from Tilberthwaite Car Park to the finish at the school in Coniston, only takes us 39 minute 25 seconds, again significantly faster than the 63 minutes it took me on race day last July!  In fact looking at the results from last year, this time for the final leg was only 49 seconds slower that the time set by the record breaking winner of the Lakeland 50 Andrew James!

To finish off the recce weekend there was again loads more chatting, and munching on even more cake provided by Marc, as the runners reach the finish at the school in Coniston.  Finally the sun comes out to top off an excellent weekend.  Although the weekend has consisted of two descent length runs over challenging terrain, combined with a lengthy 95 minute presentation on the Saturday night.  Even though I should be tired, I am full of positive energy, that I have received from the absolutely friendly and supportive ultra trail running community of the Lakeland 100/50, and before I know it, I am back home in East Sussex.

To finish of this post I would just like to thank all of the runners and the organisers who shared in the enjoyable weekend.  As I mentioned at the start of my talk, doing a presentation on my own material, was a bit daunting, as demonstrated by my heart rate being around 130 bpm at the start, higher than my Lakeland 100 race intensity for the last 7 legs!  However, after the 'high intensity' but 'poorly paced' start, it felt like I got into the 'rhythm of the event' and delivered a worthy performance!

At the conclusion of my presentation I put up the above 'Take Home' Points slide.  1.  Define what success means to you was about encouraging all runners to have a clear goal of what they want to achieve, with it possibly being a bit more specific and a bit more ambitious that simply finishing in 39hours and 59minutes.  2. Re-evaluate / adjust your self expectations was about taking on board that over the years of running, each and every one of us will have improved without probably noticing the change, and maybe now was a good time to re-evaluate one's self perceptions of oneself.  3. Final five weeks - carry out total preparation was about stressing the need to give serious thought to what possibly could happen during the race, and more importantly, to develop a positive strategy to deal with the, at times, challenging situations that may arise.  4. Surround / immerse yourself with positivity was about the importance of positivity on performance, and how one can gain great benefits in receiving it from family, friends, fellow runners, and most importantly from within.

To sign off, the final few words from the Take Home Points slide seems appropriate:  "During the Lakeland 100/50 weekend in July, enjoy the total experience, enjoy the journey, and live fully every moment.", Stuart Mills 2011.

To all of the Lakeland 100/50 runners out there, and to all other ultra trail runners, may your TOTAL preparations leading up to your next race go well and result in a successful performance.



  1. stu
    i missed the weekend and your talk but a friend told me how inspiring it was..it was probbly a better performance than you imagined! thanks for sharing this too

  2. The talk was spot on!, taking many points on board for the 100 this year!

  3. Thanks again for the fantastic talk Stu. It was massively inspiring and gave me a needed kick up the backside! Steve