Ben Abdelnoor is having a pretty good 2013. The Ambleside and inov8 runner won the classic Wasdale a few weeks back, along with the Old County Tops earlier in the year. Last weekend he realised his goal of 2013 – winning the Lakeland 50.
Here Ben tells us how it all panned out on the trails and fells around Coniston:
The Lakeland 100 is a race that has caught my imagination in a way no other race has, or probably ever will. For the last three years I’d come out and supported the event as it passed through Ambleside; the route passes my front door. Three years ago I cheered on my girlfriend in the 100 mile event.
She passed through Ambleside late at night in the cold and rain, struggling and in pain, but determined to finish; I remember being quite emotional at the time. I’d then proudly watched her finish in Coniston to take the victory after a tortuous 32 hours. That same year I’d witnessed the awesome talent, and an incredible neck-and-neck battle, between Andrew James and Jon Morgan in the Lakeland 50 event. James had won by a few minutes to set a new course record of 7 hours 47 minutes.
A hundred miles involves running through the night, sometimes two. And I’ve watched those 100-mile runners: the agony, the pain, the limping, the tears and the suffering. I didn’t want that. Plus, I like going to bed at night – so that settled it; I’d give the 50-mile event a go.
Planning and race preparation
For me this was going to be my big target for the season. I run on the fells rather than the trails and a 4-hour fell race is what I’d call a ‘big’ event. Early in the season I’d competed in a 37-mile fell race, taking 7 hours, with a similar amount of ascent to the 50, so I knew I had the ability to make it round the course.
Next up was working out what pace to run at. Using the splits from Andrew James’ 2010 victory, I paced the legs from Ambleside to Coniston, and from Pooley Bridge into Ambleside. My training consisted of long runs (2-3 hours), as well as some longer fell races (20+ miles). Mentally I prepared by poring over the map and memorising the route: every climb, every twist of the path and every bit of terrain. I use mentally imagery a lot to help me prepare, and would picture myself running strong throughout the course of the race.
Obviously this wasn’t going to happen, but it builds confidence and self-belief.
A Quick Start!
Marcus Scotney was a fellow competitor who I knew to be a favourite in the race, and with good reason. He’d won a hilly Windermere Marathon in 2 hour 38 minutes, and had marked up a victory at the Coniston Trail Marathon, coming within 30 seconds of the course record. So, when we set off on a loop of Dalemain before heading out onto the route I tried not to panic as he disappeared across the fields. By Pooley Bridge I was informed he was already 4 minutes ahead!
There can be few more pleasurable places to run than along that eastern shore of Ullswater. As I ran I thought to myself, ‘you can keep your Dolomite mountains and Alpine pastures, I want the picture-postcard Lake District.’ A smooth and inviting lake sparkling under a warm sunshine, brown and green slopes rising up to the summits of Helvellyn and the Dodds, and a fine track to tread my feet upon.
By the first checkpoint at Howtown three of us were following Marcus, not that we could see him. By the time we dropped into checkpoint two at Mardale, after a sweltering traverse along Haweswater Reservoir, we were down to two.
And, as I headed off from a quick checkpoint turn-around, up a stiff climb over Gatesgarth Pass, I was on my own. I say on my own, but actually I had the Lakeland 100 runners for company who’d set off the previous evening. Without them I think I would have struggled. I don’t think it was any coincidence that my two low points in the race were the times when I had no 100 runner to aim for and no one to offer, or receive, encouragement to or from.
Taking the lead
By Kentmere I’d been running for over four hours, but was still looking forward to the climbing. I was finding the flat sections a bit of a struggle, dropping to what felt like a rather slow pace a little too easily. I was buoyed on by spotting Marcus up ahead, who I’d hoped I’d been gaining on but couldn’t be sure – one person I passed reckoned he was 19 minutes ahead! I finally caught Marcus near the top of Garburn Pass, we exchanged a quick word and then I set myself to concentrating on the long descent into Troutbeck, determined to try and open up a lead.
Thirty minutes from Troutbeck saw me arriving into Ambleside, and on very familiar territory. I have to admit to choking back a tear to see so many friends and supporters cheering as I headed into the checkpoint.
It felt great and I received even more encouragement in the news that Marcus was dropping out and that there was therefore a 15 minute gap back to the new second-place runner.
Heading over the bridge in the park there was encouragement from my flatmate in the form of a banner marked with two arrows: the right-pointing arrow, indicating the race route over Loughrigg, was marked ‘victory’ whilst the left-pointing arrow, towards our house, read ‘cake’!
In need of further encouragement I put my earphones in and tuned in to some music. I didn’t want to hear the sounds of my laboured breathing and shuffling feet; I wanted something to fire me up. Slipknot, System of a Down, Marilyn Manson, Korn; these are my guilty pleasures, but it gave me the drive I needed.
A final panic
From Ambleside it felt a long couple of hours, and a long way up Great Langdale valley, devoid of hikers or competitors, even the checkpoint at Chapel Stile was peaceful and relaxed. There was little of incident, except for what I called ‘the man in black’; black shorts, black top, no markings. Up until seeing him I’d been fairly confident that the 15 minute lead I was told I had at Ambleside was only growing, given that I was hitting my split times.
As I skirted Blea Tarn I overtook a female 100 competitor, the first competitor in either event I’d seen for well over an hour. From Blea Tarn the route makes a dog leg to include a compulsory dibber. As I looked back across from where I’d been a few minutes earlier I could see this lady making her way along the path, closely followed by someone else and this runner was moving quickly. It was unlikely a 100 competitor would have suddenly picked up such pace, so it could only be a 50 competitor, running a well-paced race with a strong second half.
I couldn’t believe it, how could this happen? Suddenly my vision of a glorious run into Coniston was turned on it’s head; I was going to have to run for my life knowing I was being chased like a fox. (I realise it could have been someone just out running, but for anyone who knows that area, it’s not a common path to take whilst on a run.) The agony was unbearable, I kept turning round, unable to believe I was going to lose this race in the final furlongs.
Not until I hit the Coniston Coppermines track and headed down the final mile of road into Coniston was I sure I’d done it. To hit the main street and have so much support from folk sitting outside the pubs, cheering and applauding, was just about the greatest welcome I’ve ever received in a race.
And as for the ‘man in black’, I did in fact, have a 40 minute cushion over second place. The female 100 competitor had run from Ambleside to Coniston completely alone, so I guess it must have just been someone out for a run…
Clothing and Gear
Inov-8 Roclite 285 shoes; an excellent lightweight trail shoe, giving a solid grip over rock and grass as well as plenty of cushioning over rough ground. I had no blisters, rubbing or sore spots on my feet after 50 miles of competition.
Compressport Compression calf guards; I’ve used them in long races where I’ve tended to cramp and, leading up to this race, I’d had a few issues with tight calf muscles. I had no issues with cramp during the race, only when I tried to get into the bath at home!
Inov-8 Race Ultra Vest (available Spring/Summer 2014); without doubt the most comfortable pack I’ve worn whilst running. Multiple straps on the back of the vest and across the chest allow for an exact fitting. I stuffed gels into the stretchable, easy-access pockets and a wide-neck 500ml drinks bottle fitted into a hip-pocket.
RockTape; sometimes you’ve just got to trust someone and my physio, Adam Smith, has been incredible at treating me for various niggles and injuries. He explained to me how RockTape works: lifting the skin away from the muscles to increase blood flow, bringing more oxygen and removing lactic acid from the muscles. He suggested I try it and, given my result and lack of cramp, I can only conclude that this was a massive influence on my performance.
Food and Nutrition
Although I carried more, I consumed only four gels, mostly early in the race when I could still stomach them. At some of the checkpoints I picked up a biscuit or two, twice I tried to eat a cheese sandwich, but I didn’t particularly feel like eating and often ditched what I picked up.
Fluid intake, however, was a different matter. I filled up my 500ml bottle with water, or a coke-water mix, at every checkpoint. I carried a small plastic food bag to scoop up beck water either to drink, or to cool me down by pouring it over my head, chest and neck. I’d estimate I drank around 4 litres of fluids during the race.