The Lakeland 100 is a 105 mile route around the Lake district fells including over 22,000 feet of ascent and, of course, the descent. A bit lumpy you might say as shown on the elevation profile for 76 miles of it shown here:
I failed to complete the course this weekend but I am enormously proud and encouraged with what I did achieve – and here’s why.
The last 13 months have been personally very challenging on many fronts. Usually I would find solace and balance by running and spending time in the hills but last June it looked as if things were about to change.
I developed severe knee pain during a trip out on Gowbarrow and struggled even with the aid of poles to return to my vehicle. Following an injury in my 30s I knew I was destined to develop osteoarthritis, OA, in that knee and was aware it was getting worse. It was time for a reality check so I consulted an esteemed orthopaedic colleague in London with a view to possible reconstructive surgery.
Scans, xrays, examination and a lengthy consultation on my activities revealed that I have three different problems in that knee. Reconstructive surgery to the meniscal cartilage was possible but only on condition that I never ran again – and both he and I knew that was unlikely to happen. Surgery to the other two problems was also possible but as I’ve already had two operations on that knee I decided against. The agreed plan as I left the clinic was that I would be fitted with a bespoke knee brace to transfer the load from my joint to the muscles so I could mobilise pain-free.
Those of you who have been out with me will know what a difference that brace has made for me descending hills – pain free for the first time in years. I enjoyed some quality descents including a couple of Scottish Munros. But you’ll also know what a real faff it has been to carry it around and getting the positioning just right, plus it can’t be on for miles and miles as it becomes really uncomfortable.
I did nothing that could be described as training in the six months to December. I decided to return to the gym and work on all round strength, with a focus on knee control. I also experimented with various taping techniques to simulate what the brace was doing for my knee. At the end of October, frustrated with feeling confined, I was given a place in the Langdale half marathon. Not a distance I’m overly familiar with but my frustrations with my lot won any argument over common sense and with a heavily taped knee, I enjoyed a hilly 13.1 miles in normal Lake District soggy conditions……crucially I didn’t suffer too much afterwards. Maybe there was something in this strength work? December is Tour de Helvellyn month, an event I’d done six times and which I love. At 38 miles, 7000 feet and variable winter conditions it never fails to exceed expectations -but should I or even, could I attempt it this year? Curiosity won this time: I found it harder than usual as I felt I had lost my hill legs but I did complete it.
I had a few event ideas in my head for 2022 and intended to start training in January but life had other ideas as a member of my extended family for whom I have ‘responsibilities’ became seriously unwell and my time was prioritised substantially to their needs for the next three months. Finally, in mid-March I caught Covid, itself not a pleasant experience but it progressed to post-Covid syndrome with fatigue, ‘brain fog’ and muscle tenderness and weakness. If I’d had the energy, I would have despaired! I’ve detailed my journey through this elsewhere: https://therunninggranny.co.uk/2022/06/05/972/ Instead, I cancelled all ambitions for the year leaving just the LL100 in the diary on the off chance that four months might be sufficient time for me to recover and I wasn’t bothered about a refund as the entry fee goes to charity.
Exercise wise I did what I could all the while having a real battle with my morale trying not to compare my current self with what I could do before. I lost my running mojo completely. If I felt OK one day I would go for a walk. I’m particularly grateful to those of my friends who helped me get out for half day yomps knowing I’d be slow, couldn’t run and needed lots of stops along the way – you all know who you are and you helped me retain my sanity.
During April and May, these half days were followed by long unwanted naps and days on the sofa. I found that cycling was easier than being on my feet so dusted off my bike and did a bit of that plus I continued to go to the gym although sessions were shorter and lighter than before. Episodes of overwhelming fatigue became less frequent extending from daily to weekly and by the middle of July to three weeks. Was I over it? The brain fog was by now also easing. I do have one persistent complication which is a covid toe – yes, it is a thing – google it! One little toe has been excruciatingly painful since I had Covid and four trips to a podiatrist have not really helped. Identifying footwear that causes the least pain has been the way to deal with it – fortunately I have a lot of fell shoes from which to choose 😊
On this background I decided to toe the line (pun intended) for the start of the LL100 – curious to see what was possible and, if I’m honest, I’m simply fed up with missing out on all the fun. I have ambitions for the running granny for 2023 and I need to know my baseline to formulate a constructive and realistic plan.
As mentioned, I did not complete the route but as I say to anyone setting out on any goal, it’s great if you can complete it but it’s important to celebrate what you have achieved.
The weather was pretty hideous but that’s ok, I have great kit to keep me comfortable and warm. Maybe a bit masochistically, I actually relish the prospect of being battered by the weather and giving the kit a proper test. Besides, there were a few hundred other masochists on the route, new friends and old and I enjoyed playing leapfrog with another Angela, sharing the early part of the journey. However, the recent rainfall meant the bogs were wet, muddy and energy-sapping. The thing I identified as a risk factor for this distance was not that I didn’t have the miles or climbing in my legs but that I didn’t have the miles in my feet – the long days to condition them for what lay ahead. And, that’s what let me down despite my efforts to tape the areas of concern and choose shoes for comfort rather than the terrain. I stopped to remove grit and stones a few times and once on a convenient bench and changed my socks which helped a bit. At Dalemain, 59 miles in, I changed shoes and socks and took care to take time to deal with various blisters and sore bits. But, when your feet are encased in muddy water for prolonged periods they will develop a mix of problems. By Mardale, my feet were in a world of pain with every step and it would have been foolhardy to continue. My legs were fine and my head was fine.
Given the last year, I’m enormously proud and encouraged by what I achieved:
Congratulations to everyone who made it to the start line – like me, you all have your stories including those who have suffered serious health problems such as a stroke during the last year. You’ll never set a foot wrong when you aim for the stars because you’ll gain so much growth and self esteem from the journey you are on and even if it isn’t the star you aimed for, you’ll find another one.
Enormous heartfelt ‘thank yous’ to each and every volunteer, marshal and to the organisers. You were all so positive and helpful at all times. It’s hard work and it wouldn’t happen without you.
Thank you for reading this. And please, don’t forget to celebrate what you have achieved.
You're never too old to set a new goal or dream a new dream