Whilst the old adage “you can’t out-train a bad diet” is undeniably (and sadly!) correct, it’s also true that you cannot starve yourself of sleep and hope to put in a good turn when racing.
Having enjoyed recce-ing Calderdale Way for a couple of years, I was greatly looking forward to stringing all the portions together in one fell swoop, if you pardon the pun.
However, a few days beforehand events were looking to conspire against me. My baby Hope’s teething had been denying me more than the most meagre of rations sleep-wise, and when my running buddy, race morning lift and fellow NLFR newbie Stu Gall ruling himself out due to mega blisters, it was looking like I’d wasted my Calderdale Way Ultra entry fee. To add to my frustrations, I’d both over-tapered and over-carb loaded, so the scales were telling me I really needed a long day out on the fells.
The day prior to race day I was still unsure if I should still race, and decided to see how the evening panned out and either drive over early doors or go for plan B. I aimed to turn in early but that night sleep once again proved elusive and I decided to sack off the race and opt for plan B, and around midnight booked a taxi for 4am the next morning with a view to running the route but at my own pace. My taxi driver was great fun, and as it was Ramadan at the time, we had a good chat comparing hunger notes of an ultra-runner versus those following their religious beliefs. Bless him, he even offered to drop round a curry that evening so I could sample his wife’s cooking!
On to plan B. The ultra-race doesn’t follow the Calderdale Way 100% accurately. It starts at a sports centre a couple of miles outside Todmorden and then, mindful of the local community, cuts out or adds on various bits. Because who wants 500 head torches running through back their back garden at 5am?!
I thought if I could get an early enough train, I could then maybe play catch up with the race entrants. I was always more concerned about proving my knowledge of the route to myself than bagging than a T shirt and medal, so following the true route seemed a purer celebration of all of Calderdale has to offer. I also figured that if I started and finished in Todmorden there was more chance of rehydrating with a beer at a pub than at a sports centre!
I started well enough, opting to tackle Dobroyd Castle climb first. It’s a swine but it has to be done if I was remaining true to the route, and I didn’t fancy it after 50 miles. At the top I saw the official photographer who confirmed I was the last runner through, but not too far behind. Sure enough, I started to pick off a few vests. So far so good, but I did have to stop to apply Compeed in the first hour or so, just next to the farm which has a wallaby or kangaroo in a shed (a sight that surprised me on each recce).
I got talking to a guy called Andy from Halifax fairly early on and we ran most of the route together. One of his friends worked for Cannonball Events who were kind enough to let me still refuel at the stations despite not officially competing due to missing the start. In the big climb from Jerusalem Farm, Andy and I met up with my ex-clubmate (St Theresa’s AC) Emma Longfellow who was supposed to be competing as a mixed pair with NLFR’s Stuart Gall. Canonball Events once again proved themselves as flexible by allowing Emma to swap to a solo competitor at short notice.
My wife, Nicola, Hope and mother-in-law, Angela, met Andy, Emma and me at a farm shop about marathon distance in. My legs were starting to rub but fortunately Nicola thought to pack some spare shorts with an inbuilt legging which saved the day.
Emma and I lost Andy just before Brighouse: He had planned a rendezvous with his partner to collect a MacDonalds, and I don’t think he was joking. It was Brighouse 1940’s celebration that weekend, so Emma and I were treated to a military fly-past as we passed through town.
I lost Emma when I met my family for a second time, but we caught up at the last checkpoint at Withens Clough Reservoir. Emma had suffered with her energy in the 10km or so before this, but soon came round after meeting her family.
We parted company by the Shepherd’s Rest pub (home of the excellent Shepherds Skyline race) and I followed the Calderdale Way back to Todmorden some 50 something miles and 14 hours & 48 minutes after I had set off.
I only had a couple of minutes wait at the station before my train back, and both my phones ran out of charge by the time I landed back in Leeds, although I did manage to update Strava first to make it official, phew! However, this meant I couldn’t hail an Uber and the queue for taxis was massive as many of the drivers were back at home with their families breaking fast! Eventually I shuffled down the queue and was taken home where I was planning on devouring a meal and maybe rehydrating with a couple of beers but I just couldn’t face either (not like me!) so forced down a pint of milk. I was told in no uncertain terms I wouldn’t be welcome in the marital bed unless I had a shower which I did then collapsed tired and happy. Fortunately, young Hope let me sleep that night, and I guess it’s more preferable to get a good night’s kip after a long day out than beforehand.
I’ve really enjoyed getting to know this great corner of West Yorkshire (and maybe even straying into Lancs on occasion…) and thoroughly recommend Hebden Bridge, Todmorden and Mytholmroyd etc. as great places to explore from. I’ve had a couple of attempts at the (much shorter at circa 25km) Calder Valley Round recently and plan more over the next few months, if anyone wants to join me get in touch.