LAKELAND 50: ‘Spartan Spotting’-The Supporters Story!
So after months of preparation (you know the kind; occupying children singlehandedly at the weekend, organising childcare for the race weekend, preparing a flag to the exact specification of a 4 year old “it has to be just like my Spartan top - but big enough to drape around my shoulders like an Olympic runner”) the race week finally arrived and the countdown and last minute checks began......
- Phone numbers of other running widows (if I was going to do this I was going to need moral support!) – check
- Road map (you didn’t seriously think I was running it did you?!) – check
- SAT NAV programmed – check
- ETA list for the checkpoints – check
- Hotel reservation details – check
- Packing done for myself and both children – check
- Everything else not related to L50 that still has to be done this week - check
Friday arrived and there was much excitement in the Whittaker household as we all headed off to School. Niamh was thrilled to be getting a certificate in assembly and it was a rare occasion where daddy could also come along and watch the proceedings. One hour in and a miserable look took over his face. It didn’t take a genius to work out that this was going on far longer than anticipated and he had (in his opinion) more pressing matters to attend to.
Assembly over, coffee with other parents quickly downed, embarrassing moment when Andy thanked someone for sponsoring him who hadn’t actually sponsored him forgotten about; we hit town for the clearly very important matter of outstanding preparation - eggs - it seemed Hackos had forgotten the eggs! Half a shopping trolley load later we head home again, small mutterings being made about not having the car with us and the risks of having to carry 6L of drinks being skilfully ignored by me!
Lunch over, I exit the house to take one over excited 4 year old and one over tired 1 year old to the hairdressers - oh joy. I could really do with putting Ewan to bed and leaving him with daddy..... but he’s heading off with the running club before I’ll be back. 1.45pm - I receive a text “we’re on the road :-)”. Hmmmm lucky you, I’m still wrestling an over tired 1 year old!
The rest of the afternoon and evening went relatively smoothly and the last bit of the picnic was finally wrapped just before 10pm. Good, still time for a decent night’s kip before the big day. Or not, as the case may be. As usual, the somehow subliminal message that daddy’s away with the running club and mummy’s on her own paved the way perfectly for all manner of nocturnal activity; Police helicopter circling above for over an hour, toilet trips requiring mummy too, 4.30am wake – no actually, 4.30am get ups etc. etc. Needless to say by the time I finally gave up on the prospect of any (more) sleep at 5.45am I wasn’t really relishing the drive up to The Lakes!
Saturday, 9.40am – We’re off. Ewan safely in the care of Grandma and Granddad and Niamh safely in the car - albeit really, really excited!
A pleasingly calm journey - the dreaded “are we nearly there yet?” was only uttered once, and “mummy, I want a wee” was thankfully reserved until there were only 5 miles of motorway left! My heart sank as I turned off the motorway, 2 vehicles at the side of the road and lots of Police around, obviously an accident. Thankfully as we drew closer all parties appeared to be safely out of their vehicles. Unfortunately two young girls from the lead car who were chatting to a Police woman were still clutching their ‘Go daddy go’ signs. Surely they must be doing the same trip as me? I can only hope that they were all safe and that they did manage to see their daddy and that he did them all proud. Quick toilet stop done and straight back into the car with a bribe of a biscuit as soon as we parked up at Pooley Bridge!
11.30am came and went, I told Niamh that daddy would have set off and we’d be able to see him really soon. This elicited some practice cheers of “Go Spartans” which were definitely preferred in the open air to the confines of a car!
11.38am - Dalemain. I drove right past the bloody place! Had I realised that I’d be driving right past it I’d have left a bit earlier so that we could watch the start too. Never mind, we live and learn!
A few minutes later and we’re safely parked up in Pooley Bridge. Quick recce (was glad I’d used Google street view in my preparations!) and I decide to head up the road out towards Howtown. It looked like there’d be loads of supporters on the stretch past the pubs and shops and I thought that you all might welcome some cheering on your way out, plus the grass verge was in a lovely sunny spot and looked perfect for our picnic!
We ate and chatted (and Niamh attempted on more than one occasion to consume a still frozen drink - much to my amusement) whilst congratulating lone 100 runners coming by. I think that actually seeing these guys and not just thinking about it all was when I first really realised exactly what you had all undertaken. I mean I always knew it was big, but this kind of confirmed it to me!
Pretty soon the 50 runners started to appear and we started our first game of spotting Spartans. Keeping an eye on the time I told Niamh that we’d be ok for a little bit yet. A short while later I was taken completely by surprise as an unmarked Spartan (Jim M) snuck up on me from the side and planted a huge sweaty kiss on my cheek, much to Niamh’s amusement. We wished him well, waved him off and began Spartan spotting again. It wasn’t much longer before Nick W passed, and then a very animated Steve Mee “Have you seen him (Andy) yet Val? I don’t think he’s passed me. He’s really, really close behind, not long now Niamh”..... Lovely as it was to know this, Steve had continued to run whilst looking back at us and I was now beginning to fear for the safety of him and those around him. Thankfully at this point he gave us a cheery wave, said that he’d see us in Ambleside and began to run with his eyes and feet pointing in the same direction again!
It wasn’t long before Andy approached us grinning from ear to ear, clearly loving every minute. It would no doubt have made a lovely photo, but I was so taken in emotionally at this point that I completely forgot the camera hanging around my neck. Sorry Spartans, no pictures here. I made a mental note to photograph you all in Ambleside.
Now as anyone with kids knows, sometimes the best laid plans are better when altered! Having seen the look of concern on another supporters face when I answered her question “have you any idea what time they get to Ambleside then?” I began to ponder the facts......Ambleside; red hot day, lots of time to kill, really busy place, in the company of a 4 year old. Pondering quickly over and a quick call to Michelle Mee to inform her of my revised plan; “I’m not braving Ambleside when there’s a perfectly good river and ice cream available here!”
Michelle +3 arrived to join us soon after. The kids made friends in seconds in a way that only kids can and were soon swapping cocktail sausages for crackers and cheese, each one craving what their mum hadn’t provided! Picnic eaten we headed down to the river, pausing only briefly to cause total chaos in the rather small public loos!
As underprepared as we could possibly be, we advised the kids to take off their shorts, shoes and socks, keep their tops tucked into their pants, not to go in too deep and most importantly of all to have fun. Minutes later the soaked through T. Shirts (it was never going to happen was it?!) were hung out to dry.
We chatted, played, laughed, crossed our fingers that the mountain rescue vehicle that passed wasn’t needed for anyone we knew, and waved a cheery wave to any competitors crossing the bridge who happened to glance our way. Time flies when you’re having fun and before we knew it it was 3.30pm and Andy had arrived at Mardale even more ahead of his schedule. Kids re-clothed and ice creams consumed we headed back to the car for our next leg to Ambleside.
Worried about missing anything exciting later on, and knowing that I had to have us checked in before 11pm I opted to go via Coniston and check-in at the hotel en route. Mid way to Coniston Andy arrived at Kentmere again ahead of his schedule. Watching him gain time like this was exciting, but also really nerve wracking. Was he going to fast? Could he keep it up and be OK right until the end? Worse still - was I actually going to make it to Coniston and then get back to Ambleside before him?! Fine on my own, but I also had to factor in the chippy tea that Niamh was longing for!
A very quick pit stop to chuck the bags from the car to the room, and then back in the car and straight over to Ambleside. Once again luck was on my side and I arrived by the Cinema crossroads and parked with ease. A quick call to hitch up with Michelle and the mini Mee’s again. Michelle looked in heaven, clutching a no doubt very well earned cup of tea!
Five minutes later, tribes were rounded up and the chippy was located! But for a chance turn around whilst queuing we would have completely missed Jim run by. Michelle managed to shout and cheer to the back of his head as it disappeared off into the distance! Some minutes later we settled at the checkpoint to wait for the rest of the Spartans. Andy came through next, looking remarkably well. In the minute he spent with us he managed to cause Niamh to clout her head on the camera hung in readiness round my neck - so still no photo, and now one sobbing supporter!
The heavens soon opened in a big way. The road turned into a small stream and the children grew wilder by the minute! The camera had to go away again - don’t ever ask me to be your Spartan photographer; all I managed all day was two shots of Gareth! Sadly at this time I also found out that Paul A had had to pull out. I was feeling gutted - goodness only knows what he’d be feeling...........
Steve Mee soon came through with stories of nausea, cramp, cold shivers and pain – yet the biggest grin ever on his face. He jogged, then thought better of it and walked (something to do with coke!) through the park like the Pied Piper of Hamlyn - mini Spartans in tow. Then, just as Andy did before him - left his wife with a sobbing mini Spartan to console!
A break in the weather and we decided to head back to Coniston. The kids bed time’s had long gone and melt downs were imminent if evasive action wasn’t taken soon. As we reached the Cinema crossroads Ged and James came bounding down the road, high fiving round the corner, again smiles-a-plenty. Reinforcements arrived for the Mee’s too, in the form of Michelle’s mum and dad fresh from Doncaster Airport returning from their holidays - true Spartan dedication!
The drive back to Coniston was surreal. Wet weather whilst also going dark, a bit miserable and lonely really - Niamh was by now sleeping soundly in the back. I parked up near the School and waited..... and waited..... and waited. Not wanting to wake Niamh, but also desperately wanting to wander up and see the finishers coming in each time I heard cheering and clapping. What an atmosphere - I could tell from the car the place was buzzing!
With just half an hour to go before I expected Andy home I carried a very sleepy Spartan wannabe up to the school just in time to see an elated Jim being escorted inside. Warm coat on, a drink and half a Mars bar and Niamh was soon back to form.
We passed a very very dejected looking Paul A - I could have cried for him. Nothing I said was going to be right. I hoped a simple “I hope you’re ok Paul?” would suffice.
Several more head torches approached the finish - the anticipation was electric. There was no way of knowing if it was the person you were longing to see arrive safely until the very last second when you finally got a decent glimpse of them. Eventually it was who we had waited all day for.....
Andy dibbed in ecstatically in 11 hours and 25 minutes (and 63rd overall - I wrongly assumed he’d know this, so it was actually another hour or so before he realised it!). Niamh burst into tears and leapt into my arms - so there I was, hovering hopelessly and helplessly torn between the two of them! Thankfully someone else took care of Andy and steered him safely inside. Niamh soon calmed down and began her two hour stint as chief pasta and ice cream fetcher!
It was another hour before the rest of the Spartans came home. The sense of anticipation, then excitement and finally relief was immense. Seeing you all at the end was humbling and inspiring, heartbreaking, exciting and amusing. You were tired, bemused, dazed, hungry (or not!) and leaping about with cramp - but best, and most importantly of all, still smiling! I guess I hadn’t ever really anticipated what a rollercoaster of emotions the day would bring.
So, would I do it again? You bet - but I still wouldn’t run it!!!