Tuesday, 31 July 2012


It's difficult to put into words how disappointed I am following my DNF at the Lakeland 100 this weekend. For 10 months, every training session, every run I have completed has been undertaken with this event in mind.

I meticulously planned for every eventuality, planning and rehearsing nutrition, hydration, foot care, killer ascents and descents, night running, long days on the hills, tiredness, how to bring myself through bad patches...the list goes on. But, in the 3 years of training for ultras since my illness, I have been fortunate enough to be injury free, so the one scenario I had not rehearsed and planned for was how I would deal with an injury on the day, and my luck would have it that this was how this event panned out.

This is the only photo I have of me on the day,
taken just before the start - not the most flattering!

I passed through the first three checkpoints without incident, everything was going well. Then at around 19 miles into the race, as I started the unforgiving climb up Black Sail pass, my knee twinged. It made me wince and stopped me in my tracks. SHIT! What was that!! I gave the painful area a quick massage and continued on swearing under my breath. I couldn't believe this could be anything more than a twinge.

Ahead of me a fellow competitor was vomiting at the side of the path and as I approached his head torch was shining towards me as he headed back toward the Wasdale CP. We exchanged some words, tough luck I told him, and I reassured myself that I was lucky in comparison - I was in a good state of mind, I was feeling strong, everything had gone well so far and I was achieving the time targets I had set myself. The twinge in my knee was a temporary discomfort that would be gone before I knew it.

The rest of the climb was uncomfortable, but I made it to the top and descended comfortably, ran the path passed Black Sail hut and started the next ascent. The niggle was there, but it wasn't slowing me down until the next sharp, steep and rocky descent into Buttermere. I took it easy and avoided running hard down the very steep sections so as not to aggravate the niggle, and I ran comfortably into Buttermere checkpoint.

The next section through to Braithewait was slow going. In training, in the day light, I'd covered this section in under 2 hours, but in the dark, in the rain and wind with the ground churned up from the hundreds of runners ahead of me it was a walk out of Buttermere and I didn't run again for 2 hours until I started the decent into Braithewaite. Return of the niggle, multiplied by 10.

I decided to take a long break at the Braithewaite CP to take care of any other minor issues, allowing myself to keep the knee issue in perspective and avoiding getting it confused with other things. I texted Martin and told him I was afraid this would spell the end for me, but he wisely told me to keep going and take it one checkpoint at a time. I took his advice on board and took time to retape my feet, put on some dry socks - hat - top, had a couple of bowls of pasta, drank some coffee, and made myself feel generally more comfortable.

I spent 45 minutes at the CP but I felt it was worthwhile and I left in daylight feeling reinvigorated and ran comfortably into Blencathra. The niggle was there, but it was not bothering me so much. A quick in and out of the CP and off I went in good spirits. The next section to the Dockray CP starts with a section along a disused railway track. I ran and walked this comfortably making good progress against my target time, and then I hit the moderate climb up to the old coach road.

A soon as I started the uphill section severe pain shot around my knee and brought tears to my eyes. I hobbled on for a bit but the pain was nasty, so I sat half way up the hill and cried. I was stuck in limbo. I upgraded the 'issue' to a 'problem' and I was unable to decide whether I should go up or down the hill. I was distraught as it hit me that this was probably the beginning of the end. I rang Martin and cried as I tried to convey the discomfort I was experiencing and how I feared that this would mean I wouldn't finish, but he encouraged me on again and I decided to get to the CP and reassess - it didn't matter how slow I had to go, I would still be moving forward and I was on track time wise - just about.

At Dockray CP I was greeted by a chap who I had run with during the UTSW. This lifted my spirits again and I left feeling confident and resolving that continuing through to Ambleside was manageable and achievable. But during the gentle uphill alongside Ullswater I had to sit down twice to allow the pain to subside, and running along the tarmac sections into Dalemain the niggle came into it's own and I was reduced to a walk.

I considered the hills that were ahead of me; Fusedale, the climb out of Mardale Head, Kentmere and all the other smaller hills in between, and it was clear that the task ahead was doomed. If the last 40 miles had been along gentle, undulating tracks I could power walk the remainder of the course and make it just ahead of the cut offs, but knowing the challenging hills and the conditions underfoot that were still to come, I accepted that Dalemain would mark the end of my outing.

I walked into Dalemain feeling pretty broken and distraught, and my family and friends tried to encourage me to continue, but it was pointless and so I dibbed out. It was over.

It became apparent to my family whilst I was running
that my dibber was not working. It turns out that my
dibber had been assigned to an L50 runner, and I had
been given an unassigned dibber. Hence, I show only
as Runner 1000.

I'd managed to travel an additional 40 miles from the point where the problem first appeared. I'd lost track of the number of ibuprofen caps I'd taken, and I felt I'd done everything I could to manage the issue, but sometimes you have to accept that failure is an option.


  1. Apologies in advance if any of this sounds patronising - I don't mean it to be.

    So sorry that this happened Sarah and I sympathise with how gutted you must feel, especially after all the training and preparation. For what little consolation that it's worth, I feel you absolutely made the right decision.

    I also feel that there are positives as well: you were worried a few weeks back after your recce in May that you might get be up against it time-wise - but you made the cut-offs up to Dalemain with time to spare with your problems and, as you say, you pushed on for 40 miles with the problem. That's an immense effort by any standards and I'm confident that if you had no injury, you'd have finished well.

    Don't lose heart - it's a learning experience and you were up against something you couldn't do anything about. You'll bounce back and try again and you'll do it harder, faster and you'll finish for sure.

    1. I don't find your comment patronising at all Tom. Thank you for taking the time to write such an encouraging message. It's very much appreciated. I'll definitely give it another shot next year!