Last year was my 48th on this planet but my best year ever on the fells and the stats prove it – 1654 miles run, 406,000ft climbed, 37 races with 36 PBs, longest race 106 miles.
I know I’ll never be the fastest runner out there but like everybody else who lines up at the start I want to do the best I can and one thing I’d struggled with over the past few years was nutrition on long to ultra distance. I’d run my Bob Graham Round in 2013 and from Leg 2 onwards started to struggle with eating which isn’t unusual but I was quite sick afterwards with some bleeding in my stomach. The doctor put it down to having been through an extreme event and nothing to worry about but at the 61 mile Fellsman the following year I suffered badly again with the same symptoms and the doctors warned it could develop into stomach ulcers. The problem seemed to be eating “proper” food in ultras with the inevitable jiggling about causing irritation which, reading ultra running forums, seems to be the most common cause of a DNF.
Like most of us in the past I occasionally used energy gels, mainly for their convenience but found that they cause me to have gastro-intestinal trouble of a different sort with cramps coming on if I use them for more than a couple of hours. This spoiled a brilliant run I was having at the Teenager with Altitude in 2014 and put me off using them. I still occasionally use a gel for a caffeine jolt towards the end of a long race but can’t rely on them.
Later in 2014 I ran the TDS ultra race at the UTMB in Chamonix which I’d looked forward to all year, planned a family holiday round and got myself on top form. The first 30 miles went well but then the sickness started after a diet of French UTMB rest stop food which I can’t recommend. This wrecked my race and dropped me from the top 100 to almost abandoning the race. A race doctor with anti-sickness drugs and 3 hrs in the medical tent allowed me to finish but even though it was a fantastic event to complete in a respectable position the stomach problems had spoilt what should’ve been a great result. I began to wonder if I should just abandon ultra distance running but the one event I still really wanted to do was the Montane Lakeland 100.
So back to 2015.
I started the year as I usually do at the Kendal Winter League. These are great little races put on by Helm Hill and sharpen you up in the dark, cold months and I had some respectable results, usually sparring with Mike Robinson and Derek Hurton in the V40s.
Nick Ogden and Steve Angus enlisted me to take part in a Keswick AC winter Bob Graham round attempt in January but despite some heroic wading through thigh deep snow it was clear we wouldn’t get round under 24hrs and we had to abandon at Sticks Pass. This was disappointing but I was starting to feel really strong.
A decent race at High Cup Nick and some solid Dales recce runs meant I was on good form heading into April but with the Fellsman looming I needed a better nutrition plan. I’d heard a few good reports about Mountain Fuel so went to see my Keswick AC club-mate Rupert Bonington and arranged to trial the Extreme Energy drink. I’d tried energy drinks from one of the big manufacturers in my cycling days but they were sticky and horrible and ruined the 2003 Etape du Tour in the Pyrenees for me with more sickness woes.
From the outset I liked the Mountain Fuel, it seems to give a slower release energy rather than the spike you get from gels. I started using it before short races and during longer ones and in training. I don’t know how they do it but for a carbohydrate drink it doesn’t get sticky at all even when you spill it all over the place as you do inevitably do. Best of all though it lies easily on the stomach even through hours of running so I have found I can drink it throughout a 24hr race and literally not get sick of it.
The Fellsman was fantastic and I felt great all the way round, finishing the 61 miles in just 11hrs 59 mins and in 6th place overall with no stomach woes at all. I ran down into Grassington in a beautiful sunset with a beaming smile on my face. This massively boosted my confidence going into May and my favourite race of the year at the Old County Tops with Steve Angus. Again Mountain Fuel was my energy source of choice and I just felt really strong all the way round even on the flog out to Coniston Old Man and back to Wrynose. This was my only non-PB of the year but we were less than a minute behind the previous year’s time over 37 miles. We did, however, regain the Vet 90 title and it was my third top 10 placing in 3 years.
Just a week later I had my best fell race result of the year with 4th place at the 15 mile Helvellyn and the Dodds Race where again I used 500ml of Mountain Fuel Extreme Energy drink rather than the usual 2 or 3 gels I’d use for a race like that. There’s no doubt that the psychological boost I’d got from being really confident in my nutrition played a big part in my good form and I’d started to believe that I could run at the front of the field and not just make the numbers up.
It was only 4 days later when I ran the fast Dovedale course to take second place overall and first vet at the National Police Fell Championships and again just two days after that I had a really strong run at the FRA Championship race at Duddon. I’d started using Mountain Fuel chocolate Recovery Drink and this obviously helped me to get over race days quicker than I used to.
June saw me starting to prepare for the Lakeland 100 with long weekend runs back to back. I used to prepare for ultras doing one ridiculously long run a week and spend my whole time trying to get over it but this time I did two 20ish mile runs back to back at the weekends and this was a much better strategy.
The 27th June was a great day for Keswick AC when Nick Ogden arranged for an attempt on the Vets Team record on the Billy Bland Challenge (Bob Graham Relay). Steve Angus and I were back together on Leg 3 and both powered up by Mountain Fuel had a fantastic run knocking a whole hour off our scheduled time and swooping down into Wasdale from Scafell as fast as I’ve ever run a descent. We smashed the previous record and came very close to setting a new overall record.
The following weekend I was racing again with the Cumbria Police team at the Snowdonia 7s race over the brilliant 21 mile 10,000ft circuit. Of the four man team we had three Keswick AC runners and set out to beat our arch-rivals the Heddlu from North Wales Police. In grim conditions described by Craig Smith as like being in a washing machine for hours we blitzed round the route taking the win by a big margin and narrowly missing the record, setting the second fastest time in it’s 41 year history. I’d tried Mountain Fuel Breakfast for the first time mixed in my porridge at the Youth Hostel and it did the trick, getting me off to a flying start up to Snowdon summit.
So I arrived at the Lakeland 100 in the form of my life and feeling confident despite a few days off with a chest infection the previous week. I had my kit sorted, the route well recce’d and my nutrition planned out. I set off from Coniston trying but failing to hold myself back and ran swiftly to Wasdale Head in 4th place just ahead of eventual winner Paul Tierney and just behind previous winner Marco Consani. I was wondering what I was doing up front with these lads but I just felt great and thought I’d make hay while the sun still shone. But then it stopped shining and I was a bit slow to put my head torch on from Black Sail Pass and turned my right ankle badly in the gloom landing on the outside of my foot. It hurt like hell but thought I could run it off. Unbeknown to me I’d fractured my 5th metatarsal 20 miles into a 106 mile race.
Now mixing my Mountain Fuel with ibuprofen and paracetamol I carried on through the night dropping to 10th by the half way point at Dalemain and in a lot of pain. There was no way I was stopping so carried on my purgatory through Haweswater, Kenmore, Ambleside, Langdale and on to the finish at Coniston. I’d missed my target of sub 24hrs but I was elated to finish and still in a respectable 15th place and I’d had no stomach problems at all which was a tremendous relief. It was only when I finally went to hospital 4 days later that the fracture was diagnosed and I spent the next month in a pot with only a few cycling outings hunting downhill King of the Mountains to keep me fit.
I am captain of the Keswick AC vets teams for the Hodgson Brothers and FRA relays so I was determined to get back up and running for them. I raced through September and October managing to scrape PBs at the Three Shires and Langdale so perhaps the rest after the Lakeland 100 was a blessing in disguise
The Hodgson Brothers Relay went well with Craig Smith on our usual Leg 4. We had a good run with all the lines spot-on but overall we slipped a bit to 20th after last year’s 14th. At the FRA relays I was back together with Steve Angus for a fast course around Pendle. Steve had the stronger 1st half and I had the stronger 2nd half but we ran well together and enjoyed the day out.
Relieved that I’d managed to get back running for the Relays I felt that the pressure was off and slowed the training off a bit having been consistently exceeding 10-15,000ft of climbing per week in the summer months. I enjoyed the last few races of the year with the Tour of Pendle, Badger Bar Blast, Wild Boar and Wansfell to round things off. Through the year I’d managed to win the Keswick AC Vet 40 Fell Championship and I’m proud to hold the trophy for the next 12 months.
For me it was a brilliant year and I managed to find both physical and mental form that combined to make it my best ever. There were undoubtedly a few things that really helped and these were a change in training strategy to run shorter runs more often, short fast racing early in the year, somehow finding a confidence I’ve never had and getting my nutrition sorted out for the longer stuff. A big part of this was using Mountain Fuel to give me a reliable way to fuel and hydrate myself on long races without worrying about ending up with stomach problems.