8 months of injury recovery, early morning starts and strength training finally paid off – officially completed Man vs. Lakes.
This was the big run for this year. Styaing true to my personal rule of taking on new, bigger, crazier challenges each year, MvLs was my first real trail marathon of any kind… and actually, technically became by first ultra-marathon at the same time!
What makes Man vs. Lakes so epic is the first section; a 10-11km run across Morecambe Bay once the tide has gone out. It’s something very few people get to do on this scale and was easily the highlight for me. The remaining 30km+ is split across technical train through woods and marsh, a run alongside Lake Windermere, water activities and then a final sprint to the finish. Here’s the full route.
As well as the mandatory kit list from RR, I stuck with the kit I’ve been training with for the last few months;
- Karrimor 5 ltr bag – good value and kept my bag kit nice and dry
- Salomon speedcross 3s
- Salomon Agile 12 running pack w/ my Camelbak 2 ltr
- Under Armour ColdGear compression tights
- New balance blue running top
2017’s big running challenge was here and I couldn’t be more excited. My first real trail marathon after a good few months of getting into a new running routine. I was feeling confident about my kit, technique, nutrition, even the weather …which although looked pretty bleak, felt perfect for me (says a lot about my personality maybe?).
I even felt ok when the announcer, after welcoming everybody to the start, said that they’d made a *slight* course correction (their words), and that today we’d be running 2 miles extra, taking the full distance to 28 miles. YES! I mean, what’s 2 extra miles at that point?
After about a 15 minute wait, we went through the start gate, and headed down to the beach. By this point the rain was really starting to pick up, making it all the more important to keep warm and ready to go. It was a pretty surreal moment, with the rain and mist it was pretty much impossible to see anything other than grey for miles around. It’d just be a case of sticking with the crowd and keep going to the other side.
My girlfriend Clare and my parents managed to take some photos just as we headed out into what looked like a total abyss.
Crossing the bay
As with any Rat Race event, the start line is anything but boring. The run across the bay was something I’d kept in my mind while training for a long time, trying to visualise what it’d be like. Clearing it went pretty well, as I crossed the 10km mark in just over an hour at a steady pace. It wasn’t just a case of running, but also wading through thigh-high water. This was the hardest part to train for – seriously, how often do you really build sand running and wading through cold water into your training plan? Running on the wet sand was pretty energy sapping, and really put a strain on my balance. With this, the best training advice I can give is to really try and train in all weathers, especially on softer, wet trail. It goes without saying, but if you’re really keen on doing this run, regardless of ability, training purely on treadmills and concrete roads just won’t cut it. You need to get used to running on uneven ground.
About half way through the bay crossing it really started to sink in what we were doing. The occasion felt special and something not many people can say they’ve ever done. Even with the heavy rain and wind, the scenery was pretty spectacular, if difficult to actually make out where the hell we were!
With the rain really to come down, and the thick mist setting in, it was starting to look like the Miller planet scene from Interstellar. But with no gigantic waves and fewer smart-ass robots. It was eerily beautiful and for me the biggest highlight of the run.
In classic Rat Race style, there was a real sense of camaraderie in the pack. Runners were in great spirits, joking and occasionally trying to take selfies and capture what they could on Go-Pros. Keeping warm and moving was important, but this was something to really soak in and savour.
Run to the hills
The first drinks pit stop came at about 11km in, at Grange-Over-Sands in a car park, after about a 1km run along the promenade. Right after this, crossing the road, the trail heads off into familiar trail grounds and steep concrete roads. And I mean steep. In wet conditions it was pretty difficult to get any kind of decent pace going… and then it got interesting.
Just went you reach what seems like the top, heading right, you see a marshal and the familiar orange timing dib point. This is where the vertical kilometre actually starts. I won’t spoil it too much, but it seemed a lot more manageable than the one for Man vs. Mountain, which actually comes towards the end of the run. I’m pretty chuffed with my time of 18:03 but I think on a good day, I think I could do better. Maybe another time.
After a quick drink and jelly baby stop at the top of the vertical KM, it was time to get back into a rhythm. The route started to cover more technical trail, moving through thick woods and undulating turf. And in the rain, these were the perfect conditions I’d hoped for. I felt great, and comfortable with my pace. I had a little tightness in the ankles and calves at around High Newton as the elevation really started to pick up, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The challenge would be the mental focus. Once the mind wanders it’s easy to slow down or stop altogether, which I learned during Man vs. Mountain, can make it so much harder to start back up again.
It was around about this time across High Newton that I bumped into a guy called Ben, who looked like he was struggling with knee pain. We got chatting and managed to keep each other focussed and going through the run. Over the last 5 months, I’d trained pretty much solo for the event, and was prepared to go it alone for the full run, but I have to say running with someone else, even a total stranger, helped me keep attention. I’d also been in Ben’s position before, when a niggling injury starts to become a distraction, especially with the majority of the run still to go.
Over about 8-10k we joked about different training challenges and methods we’d tried (being the only guys in our girlfriend’s yoga classes, early morning routines, crazy diets). We kept each other going right up to the halfway point when he had to pack in the race as that knee was getting worse, which was a real shame as we were doing pretty well time and pace wise. When we reached the mid-way point, Ben headed off to ask for medical advice on whether to continue to drop out of today. Me?… I was helping myself far too much to the legendary Rat Race food point with a wedge of Lemon Drizzle cake and a handful of jelly beans. To refuel, of course. That said, I did my best to keep moving, even just walking slowly.
The water obstacles begin at around 35km, and they’re fun! The hardest thing, especially with the rainy weather, is getting warm again, but they’re definitely worth doing. The rope swing looks a little daunting to begin with as there’s a wall climb to get up, but it’s a great rush. The floating pads and monkey bars on Lake Windermere itself begins to look a bit like Takeshi’s Castle, with so many weary arms and legs giving way, but it’s a good activity to break up the run.
After the final water part, I’d worked out in my head that there was about 5km left to go, which in my training terms is about 3 laps of my local park run.
Great. Easy. But…. I wasn’t sure whether that included the extra 2 mile (3ish km) they’d added on at the start with the course change. I didn’t feel like I was hitting ‘the wall’, but I was starting to feel ready for that hot shower and a beer. The only real issue I had with the day’s organisation is the information, or lack thereof, about the final distance given to the stewards. In the space of 5 minutes, I’d asked 3 different stewards how long was left. Their answers?
- Steward 1: About 5 miles [what the hell??]
- Steward 2: About 2 Km, just over the next hill there […okay?]
- Steward 3: No idea I’m afraid, Just cross this road and go into the hills there
So I kept running, and through my own fault, started to shoot through the lake trail at a really quick pace. I think the adrenaline was still kicking in from the water obstacles. Hearing from 3 different people that they didn’t really know how far was left did deflate the spirit a little, but with scenery this grand it was difficult to feel hard done by.
The finish line was situated right in the middle of this large park estate, after the final big elevation push and as I was coming through the descent I could hear the usual horns and loud music from the crowd village. At this point it’s hard not to run with the biggest grin on your face. This was it!
It was such a great experience, and something I can highly recommend for anyone wanting to do a marathon trail run with a difference. What made it even better was having family along to support me at the end. Some of my friends from back home were actually camping in the area and dropped by to cheer me on, which was incredible. Just on that actually – RR offer a minibus service to racer spectators. Once they’re parked up in the race village, they can use the hop on/off service around the last 8km area, which covers the water obstacles. It’s definitely worth keeping in mind if you’re thinking of bringing the clan along for support.
My official time was 07 hr 25mins dead, which I’m really happy with, putting me at #383 out of 637 runners.
Overall I really think my training paid off. Focussing on core strength and balance through yoga, and training longer distances at my local park meant my ankles and calves felt strong and could deal with change in terrain. Crossing the finish line I didn’t feel totally out of breath, but drained; like my stamina had definitely improved over the last 5 months.
I’m always going to wonder if I could’ve shaved off those 25 minutes by tweaking things here and there, but for my first marathon trail event, this was perfect.
That’s another activity ticked off this years’ target list, and one for the scrapbook. Now… what’s for 2018?
- Unforgettable first time marathon
- Stunning view and spectacle of running across Morecambe Bay
- Great route for a trail marathon. Real mix of terrain, elevation and obstacles
- Water obstacles – because why not!
- Very well organised event for the most part – clear waymarked route, kit drop ran smoothly, finisher goodie bags & fuelling stations are great value, and the obstacles were really good fun
- Like any marathon, keeping that mental focus for the last few km is a challenge, especially in wooded areas with no supporters nearby
- The bay crossing is difficult to train for – but don’t let that put you off!