PART ii: THE RACE

There is something so beautiful about being that alone, out that late, and out of place. I guess this is when those demons could arise for some, but for me I love the solitude of these races. It’s a good thing.

Continue Jen’s Northern Traverse adventure:
Part I: Training           Part III: The Finish          Part IV: The Kit          Part V: The Vlog

northern traverse report ii by jen scotney

PART II: THE RACE

The only piece of kit I had forgotten to bring from home was my gaiters, as I don’t use them so much in training, but wanted them to help keep my feet clean. I had also been lax in tying my laces, which were too loose, and I paid for this with two bruised toes on the descent around Ennerdale. The race started and I tried to just get in my own world and run my own race. I saw Karen Nash run off by the lighthouse and felt ok – she was so much more experienced at long distances, and faster on flat, that I wasn’t too confident about spending any of the race with her. In fact, I didn’t spend much of the race with anyone. The more time I spend doing these long ultras the more I feel you are going to spend a long time on your own in your head, so make sure it’s a nice place to be. I am sometimes amazed that when I glance at a race blog by another runner, they have gone through hell while I thoroughly enjoyed the race. We all share the same route, same weather etc. the only variation- apart from maybe fitness – is what they are carrying within their head and it seems to make all the difference.

That’s not to say I didn’t have low points, I had niggles arise in the first 20 miles that convinced me I would pull out as soon as I had reception to ring Marcus. Thankfully all that was forgotten before I had phone reception. I also had a low point climbing up to Grisedale Tarn 40 miles in, I think unsettled that I had recced the path on the other side of the tongue, but I saw a Lakes Traverse runner ahead go a different way, so checked the route, which actually went up the steep grassy path. I suddenly found it so tough to climb and the negative thoughts rushed in. How could I get up Kidsty Pike if I couldn’t do this slope? How could I do another 150 miles… no, don’t think about that. I stopped half way and got some party ring biscuits out of my pack. My usual self-talk worked, you’ve not been overtaken, you’re still second, suck it up Scotney! I felt so much better coming down into Patterdale and although I didn’t have much idea about schedules I wanted to get there in the light, which I did. My plan here was to eat, change socks, and head out. The eating didn’t really happen so easily though. The only vegan option was a lentil and veg spicy chilli, which really wasn’t what my body wanted. I sat down dejected, realising that not only I couldn’t eat but I actually felt sick. I put my Primaloft Fireball on for warmth. I think I was in the checkpoint just over 30 mins, probably quick by most standards, but I felt it was a long time. I ate some soya custard, a banana, and a tiny bit if chilli. I decided this would be enough food and left in the drizzle.

It rained more heavily over Kidsty Pike, I slipped on the ascent and bent one of my poles, and it was slippy on the descent. A few guys caught me along Haweswater on the way to Shap, where I arrived soaked. I didn’t want to stop too long with being so wet, so I tried to force some pasta down, and carried on. It was light by this point and I was really frustrated as I thought I would be much further on by now. I tried to run sections but it was mostly walking to Kirkby Stephen, with a welcome few miles with another runner Mark at the end, who distracted me from thinking about any pain or tiredness. It was at this checkpoint that I first found out that I was in the top ten, and Karen wasn’t too far on. I probably didn’t eat enough here, but there was no vegan meals and my food in my drop bag wasn’t looking so appealing, mostly pastries and a tub of cold pasta which was now two days old. I had some cornflakes with soya milk and some vegan custard from my drop bag and set off. At the top of the Nine Standards I met Matt and Ellie and did a little run for the camera… it made me wonder why I wasn’t running more, and my mind flickered back to all the times I am told, by me and others, that I take things too easy. Ah well, I enjoyed the next section, it was such an amazing day and much drier underfoot than my recces.

the sun shines after a wintery night on the Northern Traverse

Enjoying the sunshine after a cold night

Keld is a special place for me, with memories of camping there each year when we were children. I did have some company with Martin and Mark (not the same one as before) from Keld until Reeth and then they dropped back to sort out their head torches and I didn’t see them for the rest of the race, I think they slept in the next section, though it felt too cold for me to even consider that. Once the dark descended after Reeth the hallucinations began, mostly the shadows off rocks becoming paintings, or faces, or dogs, even a kitten as a jack in the box…

I don’t mind the hallucinations, I know they are just that, and it didn’t seem long until the checkpoint. This section did take so much longer than I expected though. I got lost in two fields trying to find the way out and on the second time it felt like it would never end… I was so exhausted I had a moment when I couldn’t remember why I was even looking for this gate out of a cold field near Richmond, and had to look down at my race vest to work out what I was doing. Even then my tired mind kept rearranging it to thinking I had to deliver the tracker to Richmond. Despite the frustration and tiredness I had some lovely moments on this section; the night was so clear and the stars were twinkling at me, so close at times and so plentiful that I remember assuming they were a hallucinations and telling them to get back into the sky. I also made myself laugh at telling off a stile for being overly complicated as my poles stopped me falling in a pile of nettles trying to negotiate about 4 planks of wood on the step down. There is something so beautiful about being that alone, out that late, and out of place. I guess this is when those demons could arise for some, but for me I love the solitude of these races. It’s a good thing, as apart from a section with Mark later that morning I would spend the rest of the race pretty much on my own.

sunrise near the end of Northern Traverse

Sunrises provide an immense emotional lift after another night fighting deamons!

I got into Richmond around 2.20am. The woods before the town had seemed so long and as I trudged along the road into the town my body just kept grinding to a halt on its own accord. It felt such a relief to get into the checkpoint. The two ladies at the checkpoint were amazing, fetching our bags and whatever we wanted. The vegan food was a bean and sausage casserole, but the sausages were chilli and lime, and I found it a bit spicy for what my body wanted. I had some cornflakes again. They told me that Karen was only 1-2 hours ahead and suffering with an issue with her foot, but I knew I needed sleep before I set out, as the tiredness had made me so inefficient on that last section – it must have taken me nearly 5 hours to do the 11 miles from Reeth! It was also in the back of my mind that I still had 75 miles to go from this point.  I went to sleep in the tent and amazingly was woken up with a gentle voice and black coffee 45 mins later. The sun was just coming up and I got ready to leave, just as 3rd lady Hisayo came into the checkpoint. The ever cheery Mark was leaving too, so we set off together. He really lifted my spirits as when I set off I found I couldn’t run due to my left ankle, it was so painful at the top. I couldn’t find my paracetamol in my pack, so knew I had to get to the petrol station 20 miles later before I could buy some. I set off, walking as quickly as I could. It was lovely and cool, with a gorgeous sunrise, and I felt so refreshed by my nap. I knew I would be losing time to Karen with me reduced to this walk, but I was resigned to this, and perfectly happy. I also know that things could change with my ankle, and kept trying to run on it, but I couldn’t run much for the next section between checkpoints. Mark still kept me entertained even after leaving me to push on to Lord Stones café, first by being just round the next corner having a nap at the side of the road, and then later by taking advantage of the hospitality of a woman running a B&B as he sat in the garden with drinks and breakfast being brought to him. The fields and lane sections passed despite the ankle pain, and by now the heat, but I was so grateful to see the North York Moors approaching. I did make a stupid navigation error and headed down a lane, taking a walker with me. Well if she’s following I must be right? Erm, turns out not. But while I was getting that section of map out of my bag I did find my paracetamol so it wasn’t such a bad mistake. Crossing the A19 was easier than I hoped and at the first ascent after Ingleby Cross really felt like I was finally heading to the last section.

Uneven ground has its benefits, but also setbacks

My ankle seemed to improve on the more uneven ground, but then a blister on my left sole reduced me once again to a hobble, and I cursed myself for not carrying tape or spare socks in my pack. It was about 13 miles to the checkpoint from this point, and so after a tea stop with Iain who I caught up at Lord Stones we set off for the final push to Lion Inn, though he went ahead. I rang Marcus on the descent to Clay Bank, just to say I was ok, but would be slow to the finish so not to set off in the night. It started to go dark at the top of Clay Bank but with the dramatic sunset it never really felt completely dark all night. From Blowoth Crossing my hallucinations returned, this time people coming on to the old railway track I was on, hundreds of them, and the light coloured grasses become the blonde hair of huge human heads to the side of me. A second glance and they disappeared, and I always knew they weren’t real, so other than it feeling much longer than I remembered, I was fine on this section. Again, I appreciated the beauty of the solitude under the stars. It did get really cold again and so I put on a few extra layers, but when I went to get my gloves out of my side pocket my right hand one was missing! There’s always that first shot of panic, I was more concerned about not carrying the mandatory kit at this point, although then I remembered I still had my fingerless cycling gloves in the pack that I had used to prevent blisters with the poles, until I needed warmer ones at night. With using the poles my hand started to get cold, so I got my spare hat out of the pack and could use it as a mitten, with the pole strap keeping it on.

The more I do these long ultras, the more this issue of self-management seems key, sometimes more so than the running. If you can keep yourself warm, keep hydrated and eating, not panic when things go wrong… the words of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’… wafted into my mind at this point on the race. If you can keep your head… I carried on, hands warm enough and focussed on my music, moving, and keeping my head.

I forced myself to have two bowls of Joe’s chilli at the Lion Inn checkpoint, which as it was just after closing time at the pub, was an orange dome tent. Joe, Stu and Ross looked after me so well, too well, as I only planned to stay there 1.5 hours but it was definitely twice that time and more. I slept a bit, with my feet raised up on my drop bag, I lost some kit, found some kit, faffed with more kit, definitely didn’t eat enough before I left, but eventually left, to a breaking dawn that took an age to arrive. I shuffled along the road and the rough bridleway, until the top of Glaisdale, where this writing started

 

Continue Jen’s Northern Traverse adventure:
Part I: Training           Part III: The Finish          Part IV: The Kit          Part V: The Vlog

 

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