I know people write race reports, but what about recce reports? Either way, here is a ramble about plodding round the Tour of Pendle course.

I decided I wanted to recce the full tour of Pendle route. The race itself is on the 17th, and I once heard that it takes two weeks to feel the benefit from a run – so that left me this week to do it. With the weekend predestined for techno based antics and subsequent recovery I knew I’d have to squeeze it in on a weekday somehow.

Most evenings are taken by night shifts at the bakery, and any amount of running – never mind 17 miles of fell – tends to make the busy baking shift a bit of a grind. Fortunately the heavens answer my prayers as my friend rings me with the delicious news that he no longer needs my assistance paving his driveway on Tuesday as he can’t be bothered and has decided to pay someone to do the job for him instead. Hurrah!

The date is set and off we go. Except that date is actually tomorrow, and I’m knackered, and I don’t really feel ready. How bad can it be?

I reckon the route should take me about 3 hours 30, and sundown is at 1640, and the drive there takes an hour and 20 – quick maths says set off at 11am, be running around 1230 then I’ll be back with plenty of time and I’ll miss the forecasted rain.

No problem! Except I’m rather poor at leaving the house. I am the master of faff. I squander the morning, I curse as the simple act of finding and loading the gpx file onto my watch takes over an hour (please don’t judge me). I jump in the car not long before 1pm and pack my headtorch.

Righto, I get to the parking near the start of the route not long before 2pm – it gets locked at 6pm the sign tells me. I have a brief chat with a runner just getting back to his car. We mention routes, he quips “oh I’ve never done the full tour, too long.” I ignore his observation and its potential relevance, and then hurriedly stuff my random selection of gear into my race vest and trundle off down the road. The wrong road. The gpx file I have on my watch begins at the start line, which I am half a mile away from, and I soon realise that the road I’m waddling up will not deliver me. Back down the road and off I go.

It’s 2 pm, so I have 2 hours 40 until sundown, and 4 hours until lockdown. My “comfortable” time has just become rather pertinent, as a forced night’s sleep in a carpark doesn’t appeal. Not to mention it’ll be dark after 5.

I don’t really fancy running around in the dark and wet, but I’m here now and I can always cut the route short.

The first 6 miles fly by, I’ve got nothing to worry about! I’m way ahead of schedule! Even at 10 miles I feel pretty solid. Not a problem! It is however worth mentioning two things: firstly, the majority of the 4500 ft of climbing comes in those last 6 miles and secondly, I’ve not run more than 9 miles in about 4 months.
I’m going well enough, fuelling regularly and my legs feel decent. Until the first climb of the final big 3 that is, and now they don’t feel so fresh any more. It’s about this point that I accept that I’ll be both running in the dark, and racing the man coming to lock the carpark.

I constantly strategise my exit – I can cut this bit here, or skip that climb there – knowing full well that my stubbornness will have me sleeping in a carpark long before failing the objective. “If you’re gonna be dumb you gotta be tough” sounds much better than “you don’t have to be tough if you leave on time” anyway.

The sun sets as predicted at 1640, and the light lingers then fades into a cold dimness by 1700. I’m at the top of the second big climb and I elect to put my headtorch on before it’s so dark I’ll need a torch to find it. It’s only 4 or so miles to go, 15 minute miles, piece of piss. Sketchily ignoring all those times on steep climbs that I’ve seen the pace on my watch push well into the mid 20s for min/miles. Plenty of time.

Down the side of the hill I go to the “checkpoint” which marks start of the final climb. My headtorch very much in use as I wind down the narrow trod. Once again I resist cutting short the ever so easy descent – which will only have to be climbed again. It’s genuinely dark now. The final climb begins. A proper romp up a steep and rough hillside. No sheeptrack or trod, just overgrown tufted moss and grass. Trudging upwards is interspersed with distance and time checks, the feasibility of returning on time unsure. I finally hit the top and with great relief rejoin the path that takes me home. Except that the descent forks off wide, taking a slightly different route and adds extra distance. I also remember that my initial detour means the total distance will be more than the race route anyway. FFS.

After a day of 13 minute miles, I’m now hammering it down the initial stretch of road, which seems to go on forever. Distance and time checks become slightly frantic as I realise how close to the wire I actually am. God only knows how I must’ve looked to the headtorched dog walkers as my tired but slightly panicked corpse wobbled by. But finally the road ends and I reach the car-park. The clock stopped at 3.55. My legs hurt but I quickly jump into the car to move it onto the road – visions of the attendant sneaking up and locking me in filling my mind.

20 minutes later, feeling slightly more human and maybe a touch more rational, I realise that the donation funded carpark probably doesn’t have quite as strict a locking policy as my oxygen starved brain believed, and that I’m very happy.

—Andrew Sandercock