Sunday, June 7, 2015

Scafell Pike Trail Marathon 2015

On my way up to the stretcher box at Sty Head, pretending to be happy for the camera

the first 9 miles (part of the return is on the right)
Having seemingly got away with running 53.4 miles at the Hoka Highland Fling in April this year, an event after which I honestly expected to suffer, the chance to have a go at the Scafell Trail Marathon at the start of June was a real treat.

My main running compadre, Jonathan, had suffered a spate of running related maladies, that I have neither the time nor the inclination to go into here, since the Hoka and had decided to pull out of today's race.  Last year we had run the event and were pleased to finish, getting around the course being our main goal.  This year, having come away from the Hoka feeling strong, I was confident of getting around a mere marathon course and wanted to chip away at some of the niggling inefficiencies that I had identified after the race last year.

For a start, I thought I could save some time by stopping less at aid stations.  There are three aid stations (there are two but one is visited twice).  Ten minutes spent at each one equals a half hour wasted.  This year I planned to grab food/water and keep moving.

The other area that I thought I could make up time on was the descending, of which there is plenty.  Last year, Jonathan and I ran together.  Jonathan is probably a bit quicker on flat sections where as I prefer descents and rockier terrain.  Running as a pair, we went with the lowest common denominator, going easy on the flats and also slow and easy on the rocky bits and the down hills.  This year, I could go at my own pace on the down hills without having to wait at the bottom and also try push myself along where I could on the flats.  That was the plan anyway.

Another running buddy, Paul, had got a late entry and we agreed to travel together the 20 minute journey to Keswick.  We both did the usual race morning moaning about having to get up early and not really feeling up to running a marathon but, in reality, in the absence of acute injury, we were both very capable of getting around the course.  And we need to realise how lucky we are to live so close to the Lake District hub of Keswick.

The car park at the Theatre by the Lake was bustling when we got there at about 7.45 in the morning.  The Keswick Triathlon is on the same day and the car park was filled with the hyper-nervous type A pheromone of triathlete, the sort of athlete who, when leaning their bike on their car,  are more worried about their bike getting scratched than their car.  Despite this mockery, I have a lot of respect for these people, especially as they were about to plunge into Derwent Water so early in the morning, at least I was only going to run up and down England's highest mountain.  Triathlons are on my to do list, I'm just enjoying the journey a bit too much to actually get there for a while.

Check in was pretty easy.  We opted to walk the 20 or so minutes to the start rather than get the ferry (which ended up being cancelled anyway).  We got to the start at Nichol End Marina early enough to avoid the big queues for the toilets.  After a short delay to wait for people who had booked the ferry and then had to walk around, we were off.

The first nine miles are relatively flat and almost the whole stretch is runnable, the only real incline being the climb over behind Castle Crag.  Last year, Jonathan and I had a strategy of holding back at the start, going at an easy pace in order to preserve energy, knowing that we would be tired towards the end.  I hadn't agreed or discussed running with Paul but we set off together at what felt like a pretty fast pace.  The race is congested at the start and the start of any race sees people running off quickly only to get reeled back in as the race draws out.  After about five minutes, Paul met up with a mate he had run other races with and the two chatted away.  I had thought that I would set off slow, aiming to conserve energy like last year.  Instead, I decided to push on and had a thought that I could take on food as I climbed up from Stockley Bridge.

Splits for the first nine miles on the left is the 2014 times, 2015 on the right.  Every mile is significantly faster in 2015.  Note the much slower mile 7 in 2014 which is where the route goes over single track trail and then a steep descent to Seatoller, backing up my theory of being able to descend faster this year.  Mile 9 is where the first support station is so a quicker turn around here might account for some of the difference, although I do remember running rather than walking along to Stockley Bridge this year.

Styhead Tarn
The real climbing starts at Stockley Bridge.  The winding track up to Styhead Tarn is steep and disapears into the Gill in places.

From Styhead Tarn, the route cuts across to the Corridor Route before climbing steeply to the summit of Scafell Pike

It was starting to get a bit cold as I started to climb so I stopped to put a jacket on.  I had picked up some flapjack at the food point at Seathwaite and was gradually biting bits off and chewing it down.  I got to the checkpoint at the stretcher box and was looking forward to making decent time across the Corridor Route.

I told a fellow entrant to follow me for a quicker way onto the Corridor Route than the track further up that a lot of people were taking.  I made up a few places by doing this but then kind of crashed.  I think I found the Corridor Route relatively easy last year as I was waiting for Jonathan.  Without him to pace me, I just tried to push on but ran out of fuel.  I hadn't practiced with gels before the race and, in hindsight, taking a gel at Styhead Tarn would have been a good move.  I ate a Nakd Bar but this is slow burn energy and didn't give me the kick to motor along that I wanted.

I enjoy this mental aspect of running, it's like a meditation, listening to your body and being aware, doing systems checks.  I knew that I would pull around but I didn't have something sugary like a gel to give me a quick kick.  I felt like I slowed down and just gradually made my way up to the summit.

Again, 2014 on the left, 2015 on the right.  Mile 12 is slower in 2015.  Mile 12 is pretty much the whole Corridor Route so it backs up how I felt.  The other miles were significantly faster though and would more than make up for the slow 12th mile.

After 13 miles (pretty much at the summit of Scafell Pike) in 2014 my time was 3.19 in 2015 my time at this distance was 2.52 so I was 27 minutes ahead (or about 2 minutes per mile).

another reason to avoid the corridor route, crowds of people and not a lot of places to pass

Stockley Bridge is at about mile 9 and 17.5 and is where the real climbing starts on the way out
From the summit, I expected to be able to make up some time over last year.  The ground here is very rough and really only gets nicer as you start to move away from Great End towards Esk Hause.

It felt like any advantage I had from being able to descend and cross rough ground at my own pace was cancelled out by the wet weather and very slippery rock compared to last year.

I did feel like I got ahead at Esk Hause as the path becomes a mixture of dirt track and stepped stones and lasts almost all the way back to Styhead Tarn in this manner.

I stopped at the Sty Head checkpoint to take a stone out of my shoe and then continued back towards Stockley Bridge.

3d rendition of the mountain section.  The corridor route rises from left to right before the course goes more steeply up to the summit.  Scafell Pike summit is on the top right.  After the up and down of Broad Crag its fairly easy gradient to Esk Hause but the ground is very rough.
coming past Sprinkling Tarn on the way back to Sty Head

approaching Stockley Bridge about to run along that valley

After the long run down, I was looking forward to the valley floor and thought I might have a nice run along the flatter part of the second half of the course until it climbs rudely up and over to the hanging valley of Watendlath.  I enjoyed a steadyish run along to the food station at Seathwaite.  I spent a bit more time here and again, could have really benefited from some fast burn energy.  I had continued to use Nakd Bars, something that had worked well for me on the Highland Fling but what I realised afterwards was that this was a very different run.  I had been trying hard and pushing myself today.  On the Highland Fling I had use a more self-preservation strategy, doing slow steady miles and fuelling with solid food.  This increased effort today needed a different kind of fuel than the slow burn nuts etc that make up a Nakd Bar.  I was also finding the Nakd Bars hard to digest.  Again, a gel would have been good as it is liquid and theoretically digests easier.

up on the nice section looking back to Borrowdale, about to descend to Watendlath after the killer climb

On the way back, Seathwaite is at about 18.5 miles.  I remember spending what I thought was far too long here last year.  I also spent a lot longer than I wanted to here this year, although it felt quicker than last year.  The miles around here 18/19 are still overall quicker than last year on the splits.

From Seathwaite, the route goes along what I think of as the back way to Rosthwaite, going through the youth hostel grounds before starting the steep climb up towards Watendlath at about 21 miles in.  This part has wiped me out both times I have done this race.  Again, a gel might have worked but there's no getting away from it being a real bastard of a climb after 21 tough miles.

From Watendlath, there is a nice trail down to Ashness Bridge.  I had to walk parts of this because the Nakd Bars were sitting heavy and I thought I was going to be sick.  I stopped for a bit longer than I wanted at the last feed station at about 24 miles.  At this stage I felt fine for energy but needed to try to settle my stomach.  I had some coke and sweets but it didn't really work.  I was pretty disappointed here because I thought I could have gone quite fast on this section.  Overall, I think the last seven or so miles were slower than the previous year.  This was mainly due to having to walk in order to prevent myself puking.  I spent longer than I wanted to at the aid station but I don't think it was longer than last year.

 2014/2015 splits

From Ashness Bridge, the route climbs up along the terrace at Walla Crag.  This is where I fell last year, tripping over on my own tired feet so I took extra care this time.  After dropping to Great Wood car park, the last few miles go around Friar's Crag to the finish.  I crossed the line in a time of 6.13 which was a good chunk of time faster than last year.

One last analysis.  2015 results are on the left this time, 2014 on the right.  Up to Sty Head, I had made up 14 minutes on last years time (which is a fair amount over the distance of about 10 miles).  The section up to Scafell Pike summit was about 10 minutes faster, to Esk Hause was 6 minutes quicker, back to Sty Head was 3 minutes quicker and to Watendlath Beck was about 11 minutes quicker.  It was only the last section which was about 2 minutes slower.

Going forward, I think I could make up time on the Corridor Route if I got my fuelling right, on the descent from the summit if conditions are right, on the climb over to Watendlath, along the valley to Watendlath Beck, again dependent on correct fuelling and then on the last section.  Still, I was very happy with my performance.

My family were waiting at the finish and having two small girls jump on your legs after an event like this is both painful but quite nice at the same time.  Paul came in not long after me, he said he enjoyed the course and felt like he had managed quite well despite some niggling injuries.  I had a few cramp attacks as I sat down, nothing too bad, and I guzzled some coke and crisps and then headed home for a bath.

I'm looking forward to having another go next year now.

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