Surprisingly, there was only a two-week gap between Man vs Coast and Man vs Lakes. After Coast, I had felt strong - yet back at training I was burning out pretty quickly. I kept telling myself, “It’ll be fine, you nailed Coast, Lakes should be no different’. On the week of the race nothing felt great. I use my Garmin 645 quite religiously and I like the training status feature; in my first race I seemed to tick all the boxes and the training status showed “peaking” for the first time ever, and that was really encouraging. In the weeklong run-up to the Lakes, it switched from ‘recovery’ to ‘maintaining’ - a slight improvement. I decided it was best not to let it bother me too much and crack on.
Going off last year’s stats, this race weighs in at a beefy 28 miles, only another 3 miles on the Coast race. I was quietly happy with that. The Friday before the race sucked; I’d had a bit of a migraine hanging on me the whole day, and was feeling queasy and lethargic during the whole drive down. Once I had collected my race pack and did the kit check I headed straight to my hotel; The Old Fighting Cock. It’s well worth a look if you need accommodation as they were super helpful with everything and even kept the kitchen open an extra hour so I could get dinner on the Saturday night. Whilst having dinner in the hotel I saw a chap wearing his race shirt already, some would say that is bad luck, but what caught my eye was the 50km in clear print. Converting new money into old money I landed at 31 miles - 6 miles more than I have ever run before. A ripple of panic echoed across the calm seas in my mind - could I run that extra distance? A little doubt hung in the air.
I fell asleep around 9:30pm (for the first time in about 20 years) and got a solid 10 hours sleep, but when I woke I was still feeling a little bit fuzzy. I concentrated on keeping to the usual game plan of good breakfast, nothing crazy or heavy and no coffee first thing. The race start was 12:30pm due to the tide charts, which left me in a funny hanging about place; not quite long enough to do anything other than sit around watching a bit of Saturday morning TV. I decided it was best to head along early to the race and wait there just in case there were any parking hassles – I should have known that, as usual, Rat Race had the parking situation under control! There were a couple of bathroom trips to ensure my bowel admin was all in check and I got chatting to a couple of guys including Mudstacle’s very own Adam Jacobs. We shared thoughts on Man vs Coast and how much we were looking forward to this race (secretly I was lying a little as I was trying to put out the smouldering fires of doubt in my mind).
It was into the starting pen for the briefing and then we “started”, only we didn’t. We climbed down the hill to the other starting point, a flag in the sand, and huddled around there. We were to follow Cedric Robinson in his tractor. Cedric is in his 70’s and is paid by the Queen to be a guide in the sands, no really, he is. Morecombe bay is a fantastically dangerous area with signs for quicksand, fast tides, draining rivers and shifting channels everywhere. Sadly many people have perished on its treacherous sands over the years. The tide can retreat a whopping 12km in the bay so I was glad that the tractor was there to guide us along. The start was underwhelming I’ll admit, racers were standing around chatting with each other, laughing off our impending torture and then, “5, 4, 3… (Wait, what?) 2, 1, GO!” The race started unexpectedly with a marshal shouting out. It’s fine; it’s a long race, and it won’t make any difference at such an early stage, I thought to myself.
The sand was tough going, it was uneven and some of the channels of water we ran through were quite fast flowing. My game plan of slow and steady saw droves of people passing me, much like at Coast over the early stage. I tried not to get swept along too much with the crowds and push too hard too early. One thing I noticed almost from the beginning is that my ankles weren’t feeling great, I decided to push the thoughts to the back of my mind. We cleared the beach after 5 miles and my heart rate started to calm down a little and shortly after I reached the first pit stop, I was amazed that an hour had passed already.
The next slog out to the 15-mile mark took me up the third peak of the run and it was here that I saw a handful of my fellow racers starting to unravel. I gave out a couple of gels to guys, but I probably could’ve given out another ten to runners cramping up badly. The run was all trail to that point with the third hill being a tight single track straddled by tall ferns, this meant a little bit of a bottleneck as slower runners tired and the quicker ones caught up. I took this time to do some nutrition admin and make sure all my wrappers were out of the way and the gels and sweets I wanted were near to hand.
Around this midway mark, I was definitely comfortable being uncomfortable and felt like my pace was reasonable. Happily, I was slowly yet surely picking runners off. I had entered the Man Vs series with no intention of competing but after landing 32nd at Coast I had built a little bit of expectation for myself. Every time these hopeful thoughts filled my head I was sure to push them away; I couldn’t be here to compete, I hadn’t run this far ever before. I had a plan and I had to stick to it no matter what.
The 18 to 22 mile mark saw the water obstacles that were a very welcome break. Short swims, climbs, jumps and dunks all into the refreshing warm lakes. I did feel that these seemed really far into the race compared to the early carnage and fun of Man Vs Coast. I tried to ensure all my transitions into and out of the water were quick and that I didn’t fall on the sharp rocks that populate the water’s edge.
With less than 10 miles to go I was beginning to tighten up and ache all over, it irritated me because other than that I felt totally fine. I had it in my head that I would make it to the end now and that perked me up mentally. I stopped for a couple of minutes to stretch out and loosen off before walking up a road for a final swim. After this, things felt better again. I was climbing the last hill when a marshal advised me it was 2km up the final hill and then 4km down to the bottom. The path up was more like a rocky riverbed than a path but I picked a way up slowly yet surely and then trees cleared, showing the valley and lake below - better than all of that I could see the event village. The path down wasn’t particularly steep, so I decided to push to see if I could catch another few people up. Off the hill and back onto the road there was a nice little canoe section; we paddled out past a marshal in a canoe and back in. It only took a minute or two, but it broke up the last section. Back to dry land and pushing onward as the music grew louder, probably less than a kilometer, I found the village - a quick climb over a small wall and it was over.
I definitely felt much worse than after Man Vs Coast at that point. I got my photo, my medal but not the trifecta segment (apparently they’ll be posted out but it’s two weeks later and I’m still waiting). Also, the timings were run by GPS again and seemed to be a real mess after Lakes. I think they are good from a safety point of view but they shouldn’t rely on them for race timing as many people seem to have issues.
Only Man Vs Mountain to go in 6 weeks time… Just the matter of Total Warrior Lakes, King and Queen Mountain Bike Enduro and Tough Mudder in between…