Calderdale Way Relay is the biggest off-road club event, organized by Halifax Harriers. There are six legs that cover the 50 mile run, and teams run in pairs. We fielded a women’s team.
Leg One: West Vale to Cragg Vale, 10.55 miles
I hadn’t done Leg One for a few years but it was the only leg I could even vaguely recall. Cat had done it the previous year so reccying wasn’t required (this is a plus for a non-driver / someone dependent on others). We still got lost on the way to the start though. Once there, there were long queues for registration and generic portable loos [edited to comply with a trademark request!] the last more important when you need more than just a wee. This is where the plumber’s van and buckets are handy. The start was in Clay Park and began with a section of grass running to divide the hares and tortoises before the climb up through woods until Norland Moor. I asked Cat, “Best if I go in front or stay behind’, not sure whether that made me a considerate running partner or a patronising one? She advised that the worst was still to come, as the second part of the 10.5 mile leg is much hillier and also has a few miles on road. I’m not a fan of jumping over rocks on flat moorland so hills and road seemed safer to me.
By halfway we were overtaking a few and our pacing was good. At the top of the climbs and hitting a mile of road I’m sure the info said good views of Stoodley Pike could be seen (it was later on apparently but I still missed it). There were only a few miles to go once on the tops. The hard work was done, there was a nice flattish grassy bit and then a downhill. Cat told me she’d tripped and fallen along this bit, but I didn’t see it, which I felt about but at least spared her blushes. Downhill to the finish and we encounter some Hyde Park women who have taken the wrong turning. We did shout out to them as we nipped down in front of them to the single track then the final descent to the finish. We shouldn’t have told them, as the youngsters (well with faster mobility) outsprinted us to the end. We arrived a few minutes short of the cut off time but we’ll put it down to Cat coping with an iron deficiency (and still managing a great run). We’ll crack it another year.
Leg Two : Cragg Vale to Todmorden, 8.46 miles
Organizing a relay makes herding deaf and blind cats look easy. So for Hilary Lane to get a women’s team out of our boutique-sized club is amazing. But of course as is always the way with relays, there were injuries and illness and obstacles along the way. For all these reasons, it turned out the best option was for me to volunteer to run two legs, so I’d be running Leg 2 with Eleanor and Leg 5 with Hilary. Weirdly, though you’d think there would be plenty of time between the two, there wasn’t, if registration was open for a limited time as it was on our leg (it closed at 9, though the mass start wasn’t until 9.45). In fact, there was so little time that Eleanor and I couldn’t afford to do the usual two car drop (leaving one car at the start and another at the finish) because I would have to get my skates on to get up to Wainstalls, Leg 5 start, in time to register. In short, I began to have relay-organizing stress dreams (as did Hilary) and was weirdly nervous on the morning of the race, but that might be because I had to wake up at 5.30am, a time so early even my cat was puzzled. We made good time to reach the finish at Todmorden, and I’d organized a lift to the start, thanks to the good and kind hearts of Nick and Clare Greenwood of Pudsey Pacers, who had answered my Facebook appeal. Seriously, the transport logistics of relays make running them look like child’s play.
We arrived with plenty of time at the start, unlike last year when Liz and I were strolling down Cragg Vale road, about half a mile from the Hinchcliffe Arms HQ, when we realized we had about four minutes until registration closed. Nothing like a warm-up. There was the usual kit check. I was carrying even more than my usual picnic and camping set, as I had to carry everything I needed for the whole day, including a change of clothes because I would have time to cool off before I ran again, and chilly sweat is not nice. I couldn’t quite fit in a warm hoodie and joggers though, so Hilary was going to bring a pair for me for the finish. We had time for a coffee and a Tunnock’s tea-cake in the pub, which counts as very classy pre-race prep. There were the usual several toilet visits, and then we went to loiter outside, as we thought Kate and Cat had a good chance of making the cut-off. They didn’t though (see above) and so we set off with the mass start, which is good for navigation purposes and also takes some pressure off. We shouldn’t have needed the navigational help, as I’d recced and run the leg last year, and Eleanor had done the Halifax Harriers group recce, but both of us were a bit hazy about the last two miles up and down Tordmorden. Eleanor was worried about her fitness and that she hadn’t been doing much running, so she walked – very speedily, ultra-runner-style –up the long drag to the reservoir. Then she hit the flat and boom! She was off and I was struggling to keep up. In the end, we balanced each other out really well: I had more on the hills and she was Usain Bolt on the flat. Up to Stoodley Pike then a lovely careering descent where it was odd to see absolutely no-one go off-piste but stick to the technical path. I did, fully expecting to encounter some hidden pot-hole which must be the reason all these people were sticking to the path, but I survived. My right knee was grateful for this as it still has three holes in it from an encounter with a rock on Simon’s Seat during Charlesworth Chase.
One of the great things about relays is how quickly they pass because you’re in company. On we went, finally dropping down into Tod where the race route cruelly immediately sends you back out again and via a bloody big hill. At this point, I remembered I had chocolate-covered mint cake in my copious pack, and even better – as Eleanor is vegan – it was dark chocolate. By ‘eck, it tasted good.
We made it to the finish line in 1:22. Then, Wonder Woman style, I did a quick change in the portaloos, emerging not with a gold bustier but a fresh-ish vest and shorts, and we jumped in the car and headed to Wainstalls for the next leg.
Leg Four: Blackshaw Head to Wainstalls Road, 9.36 miles
I knew this leg was going to be tough, one for the fell runners I have heard. I was also partnered with Ann Brydson who has been flying on the fells recently and earned a well-deserved age group win at the Dick Hudson fell race.
We were in the mass start which was very informal, so informal there wasn’t a countdown or whistle, we just ran off after the rest of the runners. Ann led the way for the whole leg, which I expected. It started to feel hard going up Pecketts Well and the merciless climb that came after that until we were on the moors. I am usually a steady strong climber, but had to walk the climbs at times. Ann skipped up all of them like Bambi! Dave Woodhead was taking the obligatory photos. I commented to him that I was struggling, as I did to his wife, Eileen, who was taking photos further along the moor. At this point I was able to have a breather from the relentless climbing, long stretches of flat running, then we were descending down path, road and woods.
I was dreading the last batch of climbing and Ann cajoled, encouraged and verbally dragged me to the finish… at a sprint! Ann and I made the right decision to run in trail shoes as the route was virtually dry. I was surprised we finished in 1 hour 43.36 which was over 30 minutes quicker than the organised reccie by Halifax Harriers that I went on the previous weekend. I wasn’t happy with my performance but proud that the club were able to field a women’s team.
Leg Five : Wainstalls Road to Shelf, 7.55 miles
Eleanor dropped me off at Wainstalls Road which was a huge help as people were parked at least a mile all the way down it. I’d worried about registration closing but they were relaxed about it, and I was pleased that it was my favourite fell-running kind: numbers dispensed out of a car window. I got there about 12.15 and the mass start was at 1pm, so I had time to spend in the very long toilet queue (that’s not a complaint, I’m grateful that Halifax Harriers had portaloos at every changeover). I wasn’t quite sure how best to prepare. Should I stretch? Dynamic stretch? Warm-up? But wasn’t I warmed up already? Or had I cooled down enough in the car? In the end I didn’t do anything but went to the toilet and milled about. I wasn’t hungry either: Aly G from Kirkstall had given me a packet of crisps at the finish in Tod, and I didn’t want anything else. Hilary was very solicitous about whether I needed fuel or drink, but I felt fine. Again, we thought Sharon and Ann might arrive before the cut-off but in the end they didn’t, so we trooped over the stile, familiar to anyone who has done the Yorkshireman, gathered round and then with little ado, we were off. I felt fine, and Hilary and I were well matched. I knew the first few miles from the Yorkshireman but after that I was totally in Hilary’s hands, and she was an excellent navigator, telling me what was coming up before it came up. I was really enjoying myself, partly because it’s a nice route. Then we got to the section of the route where it diverts from the Yorkshireman. We ran down past a little hamlet and I noticed a man hanging over his fence holding a pint, then we reached a table where a man was offering drinks pouring something pale and fizzy out of a jug. Great, I thought, apple juice. I took a cup and a big gulp – the weather was warm – and only after drinking half the cup I realised it was beer. I’ve mostly been teetotal in recent months, and the last bit of alcohol I had was half a pint at the end of Charlesworth Chase. Maybe I am condemned to only drink alcohol while running. I wouldn’t have drunk it had I known it was beer, as I’d be worried my digestion would strongly object. But it was too late now and I was thirsty, and it tasted good, so I finished it. And mostly, my digestion accepted it with good grace.
Hilary had known there would be beer, but I hadn’t read the Leg Five instructions. Mistake. I can’t remember much of the rest of the route, there were twists and turns and tarmac which Hilary didn’t like but on my getting-tired legs seemed like a bit of relief. I mostly felt surprisingly good, and that I was operating on Three-Peaks-training fitness, but then I began to flag a bit on the hills. At one point on a steep climb up a road Hilary put her hand on my back and pushed me up. I was surprised as I hadn’t heard her ask if I wanted her to do that, and I’d never had it done before, but it felt great.
Hilary ran really well, and we got to Shelf in 1:25 which I was pleased with. Then, we jumped into the car and drove to the finish where – thank the lord – they had provided cheese pasties as well as hot pork pies (and a vegan option, of sorts), which was an excellent end to a very long day.
Well done to all our runners, I’m really proud we have such a hardy and dynamic women’s section. In the end we came 78th overall out of 97 teams, with a total time of 09:27:22. But – very impressively – we were 9th women’s team out of 16.