I was going to say that we are in the middle of a global pandemic, but are we in the middle? I was hoping we might be nearer the end, but I am sure that’s wishful thinking. One thing is certain though: running buddies have made the whole dreadful experience that bit easier. I am the kind of person who is happy to be alone and to run alone, in fact, at times I really need the solitude, but running with a club member once in a while is a serious tonic. So far I have ran with Lauren, Emily, Shaun, Andrew, and Jon: all amazing Ely Runners. On top of this, Lauren organises a weekly strength and conditioning session via zoom (my attendance could be better), and fellow Ely Runner, Charlotte uses the same technology to deliver to her club colleagues a weekly training run. As a result of plenty of lone runs, socially distant miles with club members, and the odd zoom session, I can feel myself getting fitter at last!
In the lead up to July, I signed up for the Run Around The World Challenge, in aid of the mental health charity, Mind. A few other Ely Runners signed up also, so we have been stacking up the miles for Team East. It has been fun to have bit of a challenge, and to compare mileage with club members: we will also get some bling at the end.
A challenge doesn’t alway equal fun, as I found out when I signed up for and completed the Montane Lakeland Virtual 100. When pandemics aren’t spoiling things, The Lakeland 100 is understood to be incredibly demanding, with a high drop out rate: all set in the stunning Lake District. So, let’s get one thing out of the way, signing up for a 100 mile event, to be completed at your own pace in seven days, and probably somewhere flatter than the Lake District is not going to be as tough as the real thing. But, if you have never completed a 100 mile training week, or a virtual event expecting you to stack up that many miles in seven days, please do not underestimate it; it is demanding in its own special way.
I signed up for the Lakeland 100 (actually 105 miles) as I had upped my mileage in July, and I wanted to give myself a little confidence boost for The Stour Valley Path Ultra (in August). Right away I looked at my work schedule; compared mine to that of my wife, and then thought about childcare. I worked out that I would mainly run 10 milers, twice a day. In the end I planned it this way..
Monday early in the morning – 10 miles
Monday evening – 20 miles
Tuesday early in the morning – 10 miles.
Wednesday to Friday – an early and late 10 miles each day
Saturday morning – 5 miles
On the Monday, I rolled out of bed at 0500, did the essentials and was out of the door swiftly. As I had eaten and hydrated well the day before, I did not bother with breakfast but did swig back some squash. This first run made me realise how much many of us miss out on by not seeing the Fens at this stunning time of day, as at just after 0500hrs I saw the flat landscape in a different light (literally). In one ten mile run I saw hundreds of Greylag Geese take off from the black Fen soil in the fields to my left and swoop into the Great Ouse River; I spied a Barn Owl flying low below the raised bank I was running on; a pair of Roe Deer scared the life out of me when I surprised them as I passed a pump house; I saw a huge buzzard, and all kinds of dragonfly; it was a joy. At the 5 mile point I ran back at a bit slower than my marathon pace. All in all, no problems. That same evening, and I have no idea why, I thought I would have a crack at 20 miles along the same route, but this time out 10 miles before heading back the way I came. I was sensible enough to hydrate well after the morning run, and to eat well but not too close to the actual run. I took an ultra vest, which carries a litre of water, a sandwich and some wet wipes (you don’t need an explanation).
10 miles in the morning and 20 later the same day was tough, and I was berating myself during the final 5 miles. But the way I saw it, I had eaten away a sizeable chunk of the event on the first day.
On the Tuesday, due to work commitments I was not able to run 10 miles in the evening, which made me all the more pleased that I had churned out 30 miles the day before. I got up at a silly hour and ran 10 miles on the same route.
The Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were all 10 miles in the morning and the same in the evening, but during these runs, I had that company I mentioned earlier from various Ely Runners. Running with people seemed to prevent the dark thoughts; it even sped me up a little!
By the Friday evening I had ran 100 miles in five days. As mentioned earlier, the actual Lakeland event is 105 miles, so I had a 5 miler to do on the Saturday morning. I was chuffed when fellow Ely Runners Charlotte and Emily offered to run this with me: Emily chose a trail route in the utterly gorgeous Wicken.
There’s something worth mentioning about Emily and Charlotte, don’t ever think you can ‘out inappropriate’ them when it comes to conversations: these two are experts at covering forbidden areas: I think I sail close to the wind at times, but these two…
Once the 5 miler was done and Charlotte handed me a beer (fair enough, it was 0800hrs), I went home and reflected on what it is that’s tough about a 100 mile week: for me it is the fact that if you really want to do it, having a break isn’t an option, as it will add miles to another day. Also, you hurt all of the time: I found I hardly slept for a week as my legs kept me awake, trying to repair themselves, but never getting a decent enough window to do so. My amazing Ely Runners friends helped no end, as did monitoring the Strava entries of another local runner, David Mould, who ran the same virtual event with the ease that is expected of such an experienced distance runner. Finally, I should mention that there is an amazing Lakeland100 group on Facebook: reading their stories and following the progress of a huge number of runners was so motivating.
I enjoyed it in a weird way, and during the whole of July I stacked up 186.4 miles. Would I do it again? Maybe. I will be back to report on the Stour Valley Path Ultra in mid-August!