Category: News (Page 1 of 6)

Paddy Buckley Round 10-11 June 2023


A couple of weeks after my Paddy Buckley Round on 10th/11th June 2023, I’m feeling alright – a little tired and in the midst of that, really pleased. What a brilliant feeling, I’ve done it! I moved through and over 47 copaon/peaks in Eryri/Snowdonia with a sense most of the time of confidence and pleasure. It was enjoyable hard work. I know the time of 29 hours 24 minutes is slow, but I don’t sense I could have gone much faster.

The Paddy Buckley was devised in 1982 by Paddy Buckley and first run by Wendy Dodds in a time of 25 hours 35 minutes. It comprises 100.5 km (62.4 miles) distance, 47 copaon and 8700m of ascent. It is the Welsh round of ‘The Big Rounds” alongside the Bob Graham (England) and the Charlie Ramsey (Scotland), and takes in the Moelwynion, Carneddau, Glyderau, Yr Wyddfa massif and Nantlle ranges. You can start at any point on the round, and there is no time limit.


Training for my Paddy Buckley commenced in February 2017 with a first foray with Matt, running in the torrential rain from Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen along the bottom of the cwm (valley) and then back again over the Carneddau. I’ve had in mind many ideas — some derived from my Bob Graham in May 2016 — which I wanted to explore in my Paddy Buckley training. These included:

  • strengthening my feet so I didn’t need insoles anymore
  • sorting out my back
  • doing training and fitness differently
  • managing thoughts and feelings differently and more effectively
  • knowing the mynyddoed / mountains and the route map-free
  • using the Paddy Buckley as an opportunity to start learning Cymraeg (Welsh)
  • starting the actual Round in the morning (hopefully after a good night’s sleep)
  • and however tough it feels, to hold in mind the sense of adventure of it all

Since that first run in 2017, I have spent many days and nights in Eryri, walking and running alone or with friends and family, staying in hostels and cottages, campsites and wild camping. A lot of time moving and being with people: perfect. Over the last 11 months before tapering, my training has included 160 hours and 640km in the mynyddoed, 200 hours and 1730km of general off-road running, 260 hours and 2000km of general walking and cycling, and 160 hours of general conditioning. Although those figures indicate something about the quantity of the preparation, in the end what felt most important to me was the quality of the preparation, and in particular aiming for movement quality.  

I first learnt the route clockwise, but then I had a revelation on Tryfan, in which I realised there was no way I wanted to descend Tryfan in the early hours towards the back of the round. I instead learnt the route anti-clockwise, eventually settling on starting at 8am from Pont Aberglaslyn, which technically put Tryfan about half-way round (and made it an ascent). It also put my night section on the Yr Wyddfa massif with its relatively straightforward navigation.


So, to the actual day. I woke up after a perfect six hours of solid sleep to a hot day with the potential of thunder and rain later in the day (this was the first rain advertised for weeks!). I felt OK and got on with breakfast, warming-up and final faffing. I had in mind a couple of things. One: the first 12 hours were to be “easy” and that all my training was about getting me through the second set of 12 hours. Two: finishing within 24 hours would be a dream and the potential of going over 24 hours was also fine. There was real comfort in these thoughts.


Leg 1: Pont Aberglaslyn to Capel Curig

Clock time: 08:03 to 15:39

Cumulative time: 7 hours and 36 minutes

Pacers: John and Dave

I left Pont Aberglaslyn with a nice spring in my step. All was going well ascending Cnicht until both John and Dave were obviously beginning to struggle, I assume because of the heat. After some worried thoughts and then some problem-solving on the move, I made the decision to leave John and some of our supplies in the Rhosydd quarry, and Dave and I made our way round the loop taking in Moelwyn Bach and Moelwyn Mawr. One of my favourite though brief sections on the Paddy Buckley is on an old quarry track above Llyn Stwlan and just under Moelwyn Mawr, which in my opinion is best done in a clockwise direction. It lived up to my expectations.

An hour and half later, we picked up John again at the quarry and made our way to Llyn Conglog. We separated there, with me heading to Allt-fawr, and John and Dave picking up more water, cooling down and then contouring around to meet me at the top of Moel Drumman. John and I left Dave then in order to pick up some speed to get to Capel Curig, but I was a little cautious having experienced some small twinges of cramp. In hindsight, it would have been useful before the Round to have devised some more creative solutions to managing the water over such a long leg on a hot day.

The other disappointment for me was one of my few bits of “anxious navigation” when it came to locating Moel Meirch. I knew exactly where it was and how to get there, which is fine when practicing, but on the day other pressures are of course in play. I ended up taking in an extra small peak in the jumble of features up there, just before Moel Meirch. It only cost a minute or so extra, but I felt disappointment all the same that as soon as I knew I wasn’t quite on track, I hadn’t taken the time to stop, properly orientate myself and navigate in the here and now, rather than desperately trying to remember. The next two and half hours were incident-free, with John consistently giving me food and liquid.

I made to Capel Curig feeling good, a bit thirsty but with no aches or pains. My original intention was not to stop but just pick up supplies and eat on the move. But I knew I needed to stop, if only to re-jig myself after what felt like a difficult start to the Round. The changeover was lovely with family and friends there and getting pampered. Chocolate milk, a tin of fruit, an electrolyte tablet and a dressing for the beginnings of a blister (interesting how I never had any blisters in training). There was another Paddy Buckley Round going on and its crew were waiting for their runner to come in on his final leg. One of his support crew came up with a beaming smile, put his arm around me and said some really encouraging things to me.  With quick goodbyes to everyone, shouts of encouragement being yelled, I left Capel Curing with Ian and Adam, feeling just so excited about the whole adventure.


Leg 2 Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen

Clock time: 15:39 to 20:06 including 10 minutes changeover at the start

Cumulative time: 12 hours and 3 minutes  

Pacers: Adam and Ian

Again all was going fine until half-way up Pen Llithrig Y Wrach when I noticed Adam struggling behind. No need to worry, Ian had already spoken with Adam and got him to contour round to Bwlch Y Tri Marchog, whilst Ian and I continued up Pen Llithrig y Wrach. I continued up Pen yr Helgi Du, whilst Ian sorted out supplies with Adam and then caught me up 10 minutes or so later. I was very pleased to see him. I became conscious of the need to stop thinking about events so far, and I said to myself “the past is the past, and all I’ve got to do right now is focus on now and pick it up a bit”. I had the sense that I could now settle down and try to get on with the business of striding out with a bit of jogging where I could. The heat was draining and I don’t think I got any faster, but I was certainly more focussed.

Ian was brilliant. Whatever I did, he just increased his walking stride length which made me giggle. The only time I saw him run was on the downhills! Getting food down (gels, crunchy oat biscuits, vegan jerky) was becoming interesting now, as I had so little saliva, so I created the delightful technique of chewing, then a mouthful of liquid, creating a slurry and then swallowing it. I had planned to have something to eat every 15 minutes but in the end having something permanently in my hand to nibble on worked better.

It felt fabulous to be coming off Pen yr Ole Wen to be met by Phil and Jess and to run to the car park at Llyn Ogwen. A swift stop, shoulders and legs being massaged by my son Ray, change of blister dressing and socks. Flask of tea, chocolate milk, another electrolyte tablet, and tin of fruit to drink and eat. I also put on my race vest in order to carry some liquid and food, to make it easier for Matt, him being my only pacer and as we were about to go over some particularly tough terrain. It was good to be with Matt. I was reassured because of all the shared experience and knowledge that we have developed over all the time of being and training together in Eryri.


Leg 3 Llyn Ogwen to Llanberis

Clock time: 20:06 to 01:55 including 10 minutes changeover at start

Cumulative time: 17 hours and 52 minutes

Pacer: Matt

My son Jackson walked with us halfway up Tryfan carrying my flask of tea and a tin of fruit. A quick recant to Matt of events so far, and then we acknowledged that the rockiest bit of the Round was going to be slower with the rain and darkness setting in. We really had to concentrate the whole way round from Tryfan, over and down Far South Peak, up Glyder Fach, and around Castell y Gwynt to Glyder Fawr. The rocks were so greasy and of course night was falling. If you’re familiar with the terrain of the Glyderau, you’ll know you really don’t want to trip or fall up there! But from Glyder Fawr, the rain stopped and on our way down to Llyn Cwn we could relax for the first time. What a few hours … what a sense of relief!

On our way up Y Garn, Matt commented that he was concerned that we could easily end up just walking the rest of the Round. I reassured him (and myself) that quicker movement would come. It felt like we made good time from there onwards and we got into our usual focussed and yet relaxed style of moving over the mynyddoed. There was just enough residual light in the sky to pick out features. Calculating that Leg 1 was a half hour over our expected time, Leg 2 was an hour and half over and this Leg was likely to be nearly 2 hours over, we calculated that the 24-hour Round was now not do-able and settled in for an estimated 30 hour round. I asked myself: surely 30 hours is enough?! Anyway, it felt like a realistic and achievable aim. We arrived at my favourite bit of Leg 3 on the top of Elidir Fawr. Just for a moment when you’re there, you can sense feeling really high up, tiny, alone and exposed. As we came off Elidir Fach with its Owain Glyndwr flag fluttering, the lights of Llanberis suddenly emerged below, providing a useful sight-line off. We then made our way to the high voltage cable route through the quarry, through the old wheel-houses, inclines and the modern cable housing, down to the car park at Llanberis.

We were greeted by the core support crew of my friend Tom, my wife Di and my sons Jackson and Ray. Everyone else had gone back to the cottage near Llanfrothen to rest up and sleep. The first thing was that we all agreed that 30-hours was feasible. Tom probably saw a momentary flicker of doubt across my face and said “you’ve come here to do the Paddy Buckley, so let’s get you on with it”. More tea, chocolate milk and this time chips, pizza and an onion bhaji from the Llanberis Tandoori take-away, along with a new discovery, a carton of custard. Wow, did the chips, custard and greasy onion bhaji feel good! Hugs from the team were also beginning to feel really important. For the first time, I was beginning to feel the tiredness. Matt had been given new supplies. Di walked with us whilst I continued eating to the Llanberis main bus stop and then Matt and I continued on our way.


Leg 4 Llanberis to Pont Cae’r Gors

Clock time: 01.55 to 08:02 including 10 minutes changeover at start

Cumulative time: 23 hours and 59 minutes

Pacer: Matt

We made our way through the estate and out to the foot of Moel Eilio. A new route up the first chunk of Moel Eilio brought us to the fence line which travels to the top. We were accompanied by a beautiful orange half-moon in the east and the sound of skylarks singing. It’s always strange to hear skylarks singing in the dark. There was a dream-like quality as we made our way towards Yr Wyddfa, and a comfortable silence between us:  we only spoke to confirm the copaon. Matt kept producing bits of Cliff bar for me to slowly eat as we moved along. We climbed consistently up another favourite, Bwlch Carreg y Gigfran (the Pass of the Raven Stone) which has a lovely rock formation of one rock appearing to be balancing on top of another. From here we were beginning to notice we were no longer alone. We could see that Yr Wyddfa was full of people and indeed there was a queue to Yr Wyddfa at 5.00am! As we dropped down from Moel Cynghorion to the Snowdon Ranger Path and up Clogwyn Du’r Arddu, we joined this throng, which was strange to say the least, and my social skills and desire to say hello were lacking. I left the greetings to Matt.

My memory on approaching Carneed Ugain was that I was incapable of working out what I was really doing. I couldn’t connect the previous sunny day, the rainy night-time that we’d just emerged from and this new sunny day. I felt pretty confused all round. I was also beginning to experience pain in my legs going downhill, so there was a lot of using my arms whenever I had the chance to lever myself down. Heading south from Yr Wyddfa we lost all the other people and we could see that the lowland was shrouded in mist. It was funny to think of the support team hanging around in that mist down in Pont Cae’r Gors whilst we were in the bright morning light . We made good time down to Craig Wen. Over the years Matt and I have practiced coming off Craig Wen many times, the map just doesn’t do justice to the terrain on the ground. It felt good to confidently and competently make our way down. It took an hour over what it had taken me before, but it was lovely to be greeted by John, Ian and everyone else and to see that the mist had lifted. More tea, chocolate milk, some paracetamol and tins of fruit. Matt emptied some of the rucksack of extras we reckoned we wouldn’t need and was given just enough supplies for the final leg.


Leg 5 Pont Cae’r Gors to Pont Aberglaslyn

Clock time: 08:02 to 13:28 including 10 minutes changeover at the start

Cumulative time: 29 hours 24 minutes to complete

Pacer: Matt

Admittedly my memory is not that clear of this leg, I just have a few fragments. I remember thinking “ah … the final leg” and having the sense that I could do this under 30 hours. I was concerned about what the heat might have in store for us but I also knew that we had trained many times before in such heat. I remember Matt at one point saying he was really tired and that he would be quiet for a bit, and that I should just ask if I needed anything. I remember getting the map out a lot more, not necessarily to look at, more as holding a security-blanket (anxious navigation!) in my hand. The thought of making a mistake now was not a good one. I remember at one point saying to Matt I was struggling to co-ordinate my legs and arms. I felt like I had to think about how to run (the last thing I wanted or needed to be doing). I remember that there was no rhyme or reason to my running, it didn’t appear to be related to fluid or food intake or the terrain. I would run for what felt like 10 minutes, feel just great and then suddenly all that would evaporate.

I discovered the delight of the more subtle SIS gels (compared to the full flavour intensity of High 5 gels) redueced into the ‘slurry’ with a crunchy biscuit. This was a perfect blend which went down very easily. I remember the time we moved into the cloud on Moel yr Ogof and experiencing a cooling relief, but literally in those 30 seconds, had managed to come off Ogof slightly differently than usual. This was tiredness taking its toll. Map and compass were definitely needed, and luckily Matt also recognised a familiar wall and we were then back on track. After the steep climb up Moel Hebog, the route off was great. All my pain had magically disappeared, all the familiar landmarks were in place: the three piles of stones, the single upright stone on the edge, the stunted Christmas tree, the grassy shoot down to Cwm Cyd, and then the familiar path over to Bryn Banog. Despite the many times of going over Bryn Banog over the years, I realised in these final moments of my Paddy Buckley, that I didn’t really know which of the three capaon was the defined top.  I made a last and final check of the map for the Round (this time not “anxious navigation” but “thoughtful navigation”) which indicated the actual top, was not the one I usually summitted.  A quick out and back was required.  

So, the final decent down to Coed Aberglaslyn, heading away from the usual Paddy Buckley route, thus avoiding bracken-bashing, and down to a path we named in the past Y Llwybr Suran (the Sorrel Path), famed for its patches of thirst-quenching sorrel. Phil, Jess and Dave met us just above Coed Aberglaslyn, joining us on a fast descent through the woods onto the A498 and then a quick 100m run back to Pont Aberglaslyn.

Man, did I feel good. I was delighted. What an amazing time. I was tired and I had no pain. Fantastic.

Of course, none of this could have been done without other people joining me in training, pacing, being in the support crew and generally being encouraging. A big diolch yn fawr iawn to them.

Upon reflection, I’ve realised there’s an emerging and comforting pattern and consistency to my performance on the big rounds. Fastest time for the Bob Graham, 12:23; me 23:42. Fastest time for the Paddy Buckley, 15:14; me 29:24. So I’m coming in at just under double the fastest times. Fastest time for the Charlie Ramsey, 14:42; me … hey, watch this space.

Alan Hirons

Wardle Skyline

It’s a balmy easter bank holiday weekend in Wardle village, and the R.O. has just done about his fifth lap of the square encouraging all runners to drink plenty of water (the dangers of heat exposure are real, folks, he’s seen it before on this race, etc, etc). Even the whiteboards at registration advise that there’s no mandatory kit today, but that water is recommended. In Phil Davies’ words: a heat stroke warning at 15°C might just be the most British thing ever! On a very pleasant warm-up jog to the reservoir and back we’ve discovered that there’s a decent breeze though, and I’d go as far as to say conditions are pretty much perfect. The Marathon des Sables it is not.

Image by Paul Taylor

I do my usual trick of setting off mid-pack but starting fairly strongly, gradually making up places on the run out of the village and on the first climb up Brown Wardle. I manage to get behind a Rochdale Harrier shortly after as well, and get the unexpected bonus of a few nice alternative lines to follow. After the second climb up Middle Hill the route undulates over the next few hills and I start to slow down and lose a couple of spots but the route is excellent, the views open up going over Rough Hill and a distant Stoodley Pike is visible on the horizon.

Image by Steve Taylor

An only partially-healed blister I picked up the weekend before starts to burn on the long descent back towards Wardle and my heel, which is propped on a bag of frozen sweetcorn as we speak, starts to twinge worryingly (excuses excuses!). I’m not carrying enough speed downhill and lose a few more positions over a painfully long section of lethal cobbles. The route description promised a sting in the tail and a draggy climb of around a kilometre on tarmac delivers a tough finish. With the village square in sight I hear feet closing in behind me and manage to find a sprint finish to cross the line without losing another place. After catching my breath I look up to see that Phil has come in just behind me after a strong descent.

Image by Paul Taylor

As we all know, the post-race spread is crucial, and the scout hut put on a terrific array of cakes. Sadly I didn’t have a brew so I’m unable to confirm the type of tea on offer, though this was Lancashire so we should probably fear the worst. The real drama of the day was that the front runners all managed to miss the tag drop at Rough Hill though, and our own Jonathan Coney looked set to be denied a brilliant sixth-place finish as a result. The world held its breath…until Thursday morning when the official results dropped and confirmed no disqualifications! There may yet be protests from the first of the tag-less finishers, a formal enquiry, and almost certainly rioting in the streets of Wardle. Watch this space!

Nick Flower

NLFR Results:

6th – Jonathan Coney – 00:51:06

56th – Nick Flower – 01:04:40

57th – Phil Davies – 01:04:44

Mytholmroyd : The fell race after the night before

9am and I’m woken by Ollie knocking on the door. I’m still in my pyjamas and still in bed. I’ve been snoozing the alarm since 8.30, desperately grasping for the last remnants of sleep, all the while wondering why the hell I’d signed up for a fell race the morning after our Christmas do? I gather my racing vest and various layers from the radiators, open the door to a far-too-chipper Ollie then pile into the car to head off to the race, just about below the legal limit. 

Mytholmroyd fell race is the last of the races organised by Calder Valley Fell Runners and is a popular end of season jaunt. It’s reasonably short (~6 miles long), of middling steepness (category B) and flagged for most of the way, making it a good race for those still new to racing. It’s a good one for a December Sunday morning, getting you out in the mud and cold before returning home for a roast dinner and a curl up by the fire… or so I’d thought when I’d entered a few weeks ago. Last Sunday though, queuing outside Mytholmroyd cricket clubhouse, shivering in the cold and drizzle with my head slowly throbbing, I was regretting my hubris. “Maybe I should just wait in the car and snooze off the hangover”, I thought. 

I forced myself through the requisite kit check (and dashed back to the car to retrieve my whistle: it’s always the whistle I forget) then joined the steady jog half a mile along the canal to the start line. Here, I found the rest of the black and blues – 10 of us in total – each in various states of freshness reflecting the amount of alcohol consumed the night before. 

I half-listened to the race briefing with the coffee starting to kick in and my faculties slowly returning, then made a panic change out of my pyjama top which I’d accidentally left under my Helly-Hansen and vest an hour earlier. I chucked it to nearby Will Hall who’d come along to spectate and got ready for my first fell race since the fell relays in October. 

Look, no pyjamas

The start of Mytholmroyd is steep and hellish, but it demands a sprint off the gun if you’re to avoid the inevitable bottlenecks as over a hundred and fifty runners vie for a single track. The horn blew and I sprinted off among the front runners, who were quickly reduced to walking pace by the gradient, up and out of the Red Acre woods, through the fields on our way onto the top of the moor. I had the usual early race thoughts of “this pace is insane, there’s no way I’m not going to die” and at one point almost chucked up some of last night’s pizza. But the race calmed as it always does and once on top, I settled into my running, along well marked and runnable footpaths, catching a glimpse of Harry well out in front and leading proceedings. Here, the races-within-the-race began and I sized up who I felt I could stay with, who was OK to let go, and who under no circumstances I would allow to beat me. 

Not even halfway up the hellish start

We headed across the moor to Crow Hill, then down a furious descent that broke up any happy rhythm, dibbed, then contoured along the base of the moor, up the charming Ludden Valley. I’ve gotten into a bad habit recently of dawdling in the middle third of races, as the race breaks up into little groups and the pace softens a touch. Mytholmroyd was no exception and my thoughts wandered away from the race, back to hazy glimpses of last night’s revelry. Oh god did we do shots? Why are my arms so sore? Oh yeah, the pullup challenge.Whose idea was that?! Hmm… did we get a kebab? God I’m hungry…

This final thought was enough to get me back into the present. I opened my bumbag to fish for the gel I knew to be in there. I was struggling to feel for it with my mittens on, so stopped to take them off and have a proper look. Two runners ran past while I searched. Frustratingly, I found no sustenance anywhere. I zipped up the bumbag and carried on, three places down, no calories up. 

A set of steep wooden steps took us the direct and vertical route back up onto the moor. The drizzle had abated by now and patches of sunlight dappled the heather. I was feeling a little overdressed. Gaps opened up and I retook the places I’d lost, then set my sights on the red and white vest of the Calder Valley runner ahead. Maybe just the thought of a gel had been enough for a second wind, more likely it was the actual wind, blowing now from behind and pushing us back along the Calderdale Way to home. The final descent retraced our original ascent and was fast and furious. The gorse lined path shredded my legs, the stone slabs that followed were like an ice rink in the wet, and the final muddy fields almost put me on my arse. I loved every bit of it. I tumbled my way down to the finish line and a respectable 13th place, annoyingly pipped on the line by a local Todmorden Runner, whose footsteps had hounded me every step of the descent. Harry was waiting at the finish line fully clothed in layers and looking like he’d been back a while. “Yeah, I won” he said with a grin when I asked him. 

Aye, Harry won (well done Harry) but 13th place on a hangover isn’t too shabby

Back at the cricket club, a cup of homemade soup and rye bread warmed us up, as did the awards, where Niamh, Harry and myself won the fastest mixed team prize – a great win for North Leeds holding off the organisers Calder Valley Fell Runners. Harry won the overall and Niamh the V40 women and collected their tins of chocolates. Among the runners there were smiles all round – hard not to when you get a free beer for finishing – and gratitude to CVFR who put on another enjoyable race. I was grinning too: it turns out fell racing is the best cure for a hangover. 

Josh Day

Results for North Leeds Fell Runners:

1st Harry Kingston

13th Joshua Day

27th Oliver Roberts

40th Niamh Jackson

44th Adam Nodwell

80th Angeline Dresser

102nd Martyn Price

118th Jessica Wilson

138th Rose George

140th Liz Casey


It started with a handful of club runners, then slowly but surely, the word spread, a Whatsapp group was created and a few months later 24 fresh legs stood at the bottom of Dunmail Raise ready for a three-day Bob Graham Round.

The Bob Graham Round (BGR) is a renowned route in the Lakes that takes in 42 peaks over 66 miles and 27,000 ft of climb. To join the Bob Graham 24 Hour Club you must (spoiler alert) complete the route in 24 hours. But we thought a “leisurely” three-day attempt would be a good place to start.

The Round is split into five legs, starting and finishing in Keswick. As we needed accommodation every 20 miles or so, we did a slightly different version and started at leg 3 from Dunmail Raise which gave us:

Day 1 Dunmail to Wasdale: 15miles, 6640ft

Day 2 Wasdale to Keswick: 20.8miles ,7171ft

Day 3 Keswick to Dunmail: 25.2miles, 11,145ft

With it being close to the summer solstice weekend we were blessed with long days, green fells, lark song, and mild weather. For many of us this was our first attempt at piecing together all 5 legs and luckily we had some top notch navigators in the group. While the common experiences were enjoying each other’s company, sore knees and consuming more snacks than you could ever imagine, we each have a tale to tell…


Never have I ever eaten so many calories in 3 days! Perks of long-distance running! Sausage rolls, crisps, battenbergs, crisps, satsumas, crisps, Snickers, crisps, bananas. Did I mention crisps? Plus, double pub dinners, living the high life. Sore knees resulted in a few descents on the derriere and day three soggy bogs resulted in some seriously wrinkled toes! Thank you Caroline for the dry socks and Phil for day 3 company. The best thing about doing the BGR is how you get to know the skyline ahead and behind you. I’m proud to say I can now stand atop Helvellyn and name the peaks in my view. 


Ah…The Bob Graham Round. Already I’m viewing this adventure with rose-tinted spectacles and only remembering the moments of euphoria and fun. But everygreat adventure brings challenges and I had mine. For me, it was Hell’s Fell or more commonly known as Halls Fell and our chosen descent off Blencathra. My, I was not happy! I started to lose faith in my shoes and felt quite nervous. Thanks to Andy and Helen for patiently guiding me down and not making me feel like a complete idiot.  But back to the good stuff (and there was plenty of it):  one of my highlights was the injection of energy from new people joining the group on day 2 (take a bow, Hilary, Sheelagh, Caroline and Ian) and Phil on day 3. It really lifted my spirits seeing these guys. Tips for next time? Ear plugs (in case we have the grave misfortune of having a stag party opposite our YHA room again) and more comfortable shoes. Mudclaws were not a wise choice. Thanks to the whole group: you were all magnificent. Special mentions though to Emma the trooper, Helen the captain of chirp and Adam the entertainer/cameraman.


The Bob Graham Round is something I’ve been wanting to do (over a few days) for a long time, so I jumped at the opportunity. I was extremely nervous, mostly because we had planned to do it in one big group. I’m certainly not the fastest runner in the club and I knew there were going to be loads of speedy people for me to attempt to keep up with! As it turned out, it was a steady, social pace and my nerves settled almost straight away.


Day One: Banter, food, sunshine, food, rain, mist, food. I fell over on Great End and split my knee open (again). That was fun. Thanks to Phil for the first aid and to the others for reassurance/putting up with me. Bigger thanks to the girls for letting me have the double bed all to myself in the hostel! 

Day Two: £60 taxi, West Cumberland A&E, a doctor scrubbing the inside of my knee with a toothbrush, 5 stitches and a lot less food. Massive thanks to Hilary (aka Mum?—ed) for driving miles to collect me and saving me a small fortune.

Day Three: More banter, more food, a few tears descending Halls Fell (with Helen kindly reminding me that tears weren’t going to help me down!).  STUNNING views, numerous pairs of sore knees, a fair bit of swearing, great company and the feeling of joy in finishing.

Same time next year?


Days completed: 2 (legs 3-5)


For some reason I had it in my head that it would be good practice, though I’m still not entirely sure what for, to follow suit with a few of the party who were carrying full packs for the weekend in preparation for their upcoming Mountain Marathon. The realisation that this was not a good idea and entirely unnecessary hit me about three quarters of the way up Steel Fell, roughly fifteen minutes into the weekend.

The rough weather forecasted for the afternoon of the first day turned what were lovely vistas into a bitterly cold, closed-in day. At no point did it escape me that while the rest of the country was experiencing a heatwave, we were in some truly miserable mountain weather.

Down to some misplaced exuberance, a nice stretch of downhill coming off High Raise, and ultimately a deceptively deep bog, I soon found myself muttering expletives whilst trying to walk off a sprained ankle. It would ultimately cause me to call it quits at the end of day two, having hobbled and cursed my way down Robinson.

Now I’ve got my grumblings out of the way, it’s worth saying that the weekend was lots of fun with great company. Legs 3 and 4 are challenging but beautiful and I’m already keen to go back and revisit them.

Kudos & thanks: Fair play to Emma for trooping through to Wasdale YHA, having cut her knee open on the top of Scafell Pike – impressive stuff! And for coming back for more on the final day too. Big thank you to Hilary for kindly lending me some poles for Leg 5, it really helped take the weight off the ankle. And thank you to everyone who joined, both for the full weekend and in part, and made it a wholly enjoyable experience.

Dan icing his knees with an innovative system of buffs.


I have just started to recover from the Bob Graham three-day event, my knees are still slightly swollen, thats almost six months of recovery. However, it was one of the best adventures I have had in my running career and I almost certainly put the injury I sustained down to my own lack of conditioning for this epic.

If my memory serves me well, it was approximately a marathon a day for three days straight, with an enormous amount of climbing on steep sharp fells.

I very much enjoyed every minute of the trip, apart from the final descent back to Dunmail Raise when I could no longer actually run due to the pain in my knees. I especially enjoyed the company of the fellow NLFRs including Nodders who was very cheerful throughout and appeared to be filming the whole thing (release date?), singing Cumbria Ma Lord, Cumbriaah with Andy and a special shout out to Caroline for providing dry socks!

Immediately after we finished I was so psyched for long-distance running (despite my injury) that I entered into the Kong Mountain Marathan on Arran, which I later had to pull out of. Next time I will make sure I am ready for this type of trip before embarking upon it. No regrets though. 🙂


Here are some photos!

​​Big thanks to Helen Freeman for being the Bob Graham write-up High Sheriff

Chats not stats

To be able to do the Three Peaks Fell Race, runners have to finish two qualifier races. So this time last year I started hunting down qualifier races and used them for training and to see if I was ‘ard enough for the actual event.

Jumping in at the deep end, I chose Tour of Pendle 2021. My first AL (bloody steep (“A”) and long (“L”)) race. Mud, sweat, tears (of pride at the end). Tick. Next qualifier wasn’t til March; Coledale Horseshoe. AM (bloody steep (“A”), not as long as Pendle (“M”)). I got overtaken by a chump in a cowboy hat. Less mud, more sweat, no tears. Tick.

I’d qualified. Oh shit. Now I had to enter! And even worse, run the bloody three peaks. I’d tried two of them together in February and despite copious pork pie scoffing and friendly company I had a tough time of it. Other training runs had me trotting three of the peaks in the Wicklow Mountains whilst visiting friends, stomping round the forests of Fontainbleau on a climbing trip, running from Meanwood to Harrogate Baths for a well-deserved soak, and jogging the espresso round (spoiler, you don’t get a free espresso at the end from the café, the bastards).

The Three Peaks Fell Race day came. I got round just within the cut-offs, and had lots of jolly faces to support me along the way. It was great to get it in the bag and be part of such an amazing and inspiring event. But the thing I noticed 10km in was that I hadn’t really done a single training run on my own, and I so missed having a buddy to share snacks and chats with and not worry about the time.

And so began “Chats Not Stats”.

I deleted Strava and pencilled in some long-run adventures with all my favourite running pals and entered a handful more ALs. Some highlights were the Bob Graham Round over three days with the club, the Ilkley Skyline, the Wharfedale Three Peaks, a stunning ridge run on holiday in Spain, a few very sweaty summer Lakeland and Dales races, and to finish what we started on the Espresso Round I did the Tea Round with the BGR girls.

To book-end this year of long runs, I ran Tour of Pendle again, and guess what… I did it in pretty much the same time. Which goes to show, you don’t need a year of long runs to drag your ass round an AL. Just get out there and do it!

Top 5 things I learned this year:

  1. Don’t put red sauce on your pre-run sausage butty, it leaves a funny vinegar taste in your mouth which no amount of jelly babies can get rid of.
  2. Do keep on top of your salts (I’m looking at you Emma Lane), and if you don’t like the taste go for the tequila shot method; salt, water, lemon fizzy sweet.
  3. Do bring spare dry socks to avoid white wrinkly bog-ridden toes.
  4. Do have lots to eat (Niamh’s tip is: if you’re in a grump it’s probably because you need a feed… which means I need a lot of feeds!)
  5. Don’t underestimate the power of bonhomie!

Helen Freeman

The other Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon (UK) :18th April, 2022

For the first time ever, I had paid for a training plan for this marathon from coach Josh Griffiths (who ran a 2.14.49 London Marathon in 2017). Anyway, I followed this plan to the letter following the dysphasia of my London marathon last year. Boston is again an incredibly flat marathon; it is a circular route around the arable fields of Lincolnshire, no hills, no anything.

It was a warm day with a gentle sea breeze. The race still started in waves, so like London, I wasn’t sure how I was doing. My plan of nutrition disintegrated when my five gels fell out of my bumbag at the start, I scrabbled to get them from under pounding feet and lost two due to burstage, not a good start (there were none on the course either). The marathon, was as always, increasingly psychologically challenging.

The initial gambolling runners were reduced to limping figures in the last six miles, the flatness (total ascent over 26 miles is 86 feet) like running on a treadmill. Many were tempted by the turn-off for the concurrent half marathon. My second half pace dwindled, but I developed fortitude in the last two miles and passed many finishing in 3.47.38, 6th in my age group and 40th woman. It does give me an entry time for Boston USA should I ever fancy it and a further London good-for-age time for 2023. London 2022 next? The winning man was Lincoln runner William Strangeway in 2.25.11 and first woman was Natasha White in 2.59.07.

This is me and friend Keith at the end.

Lisa Rudkin

Power! People!

For the past two weeks I have been on strike in support of the University and College Union industrial action over cuts to pensions, pay cuts, casualisation, equality pay gaps and unsafe workloads. This post isn’t about the strike but the role running has had in this strike.

To mix up the picket lines, and to keep warm on bitterly cold strike days, the Leeds UCU branch have organised a “running picket line”. Every day we meet up and run three laps around the circumference of the University campus with whistles, banners and flags. It helps me gets a 10K run in before lunch time, but more importantly it has allowed me to meet fellow striking colleagues who I wouldn’t usually meet during my regular working day.

I find that running as a group provides an easy way to speak to new people, hear about why they’re striking, hear about why they’re running, and hear what they love about their work. I’ve run with post-docs in plant science, professors in romantic literature, language support staff, PhD students, school engagement officers and library staff! While the journeys that brought us to the University vary wildly we come together everyday and run for a common cause. The first lap often involves introductions to new-comers, the second lap allows people to mingle in naturally paced groups, and by the third lap, high on endorphins, we’re ready to take on the world!

More widely, away from campus and strikes, I love how group running allows people from all walks of life to come together and create a powerful energy and joie de vivre. At least that’s what I have found from running with NLFR and UCU.



Helen Freeman

“Why do you like running in a group?!”


Last week, we were delighted to host Emma Beddington on her first ever fell run. She is filling in for Rhik Samadder’s series for the Guardian on trying new experiences: Emma’s were fell running and swordfighting (yes, yes, not together). So she turned up promptly with photographer Richard Saker at our club run meeting spot in Burley-in-Wharfedale, managed not to look too terrified, then set off on a specially designed “not *too* brutal” route devised by Mike. And although you may not think it from this piece as she does not throw flowers at herself, she did brilliantly. Also, Emma, there was nothing pretend about those breathers!

Anyway if you have found your way here via Emma’s piece, welcome. If you are local to Leeds — that includes flat York — please do come and run with us one evening, you would be very welcome. Unlike most clubs, we are happy for you to run with us without joining, although of course we are always happy to have new members. We do insist though that you fill in a track and trace Google form that you can find on this website under “Covid.”

Here is Emma’s piece:

Emma Beddington tries … fell running: ‘It’s like dragging bags of cement uphill – only the bags are my legs

My favourite part of childhood summer holidays with my dad was our trip to the Yorkshire Dales agricultural show, a respite from his usual gruelling regime of mountain walks and examining dead fauna. Between prize rams and displays of trimmed leeks we watched the fell-running races: infants and gnarled pensioners scampering up and then down a sheer crag, all for a biscuit and a certificate.

“Look at the little bastards!” Dad would exclaim, gesturing incredulously, plastic pint glass slopping bitter as wiry five-year-olds whizzed past, legs a blur. Lumpen by his side, mouth crammed with cake, I would feel an obscure longing: why wasn’t I a fearless, muddy-kneed dynamo?

Nearly 40 years later, I’m joining North Leeds Fell Runners for a run on Ilkley Moor to scratch that itch. “Fell running is an all-terrain sport,” the Fell Runners Association website explains, “and often involves routes with no paths … You should expect open moorland, rocky grass, bogs, tussocks, heather, boulder fields and some very steep climbs and descents.”

You’re not a proper fell runner if you don’t point a lot.
Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

I live in York, perhaps the flattest place in the UK, and my exercise regime is booking then skipping Pilates classes. I did one practice run, which I thought went OK until I got home and realised I had been out for only 12 minutes: this will be an uphill task in more ways than one. Limbering up in singlets and shorts, the North Leeds runners offer little reassurance. The age range is wide but everyone looks intimidatingly fit, even Burt the dog (he’s not in shorts).

I’m terrified. Ominously, before we start, I have to provide an emergency contact, then a woman called Liz says I’m very brave – immediate alarm bells – and a man called Dave tells me it’s fine until your peripheral vision fails. He’s laughing, so it might be a joke.

Thankfully, Mike, the unofficial run-leader, (65, with frighteningly long legs) has devised a “not too brutal” route for the group I’m joining: him, Hilary and Clare, who are recovering from injury and returning after a break respectively, photographer Richard and my friend Rose (a proper, hard-core fell runner who has volunteered for “keep Emma alive” duty). The bigger, faster groups choose their routes, then we’re off, through the gate on to the steep, bracken-lined moor.

Rose claims it’s a misconception that fell runners always run, but my impression is of accidentally joining a greyhound race: lithe frames whiz past at absurdly high speed. I’m going nowhere fast. It feels like dragging bags of wet cement uphill, except the bags are my legs. I’m overtaken by a limping sheep.

Far above, Mike points out the “fast lads”, already sprinting across the horizon. “If it helps,” says Rose conversationally as I stagger past, sweat in my eyes, chest itchy and heart trying to escape from my mouth, “your body is in shock.” I’m not sure it does.

What does help is the group often pretending they need a breather. This compassionate fiction keeps me going, plus my guilt at poor Richard, who – Ginger Rogers to my lumbering Fred Astaire – is doing everything I am, but backwards, with a bag of camera gear.

‘The sky feels huge, the clouds shading from cotton wool to angry black’ … Beddington and her fellow runners take in the views. Photograph: Richard Saker/The Observer

Finally, mercifully, the gradient levels out. As the prospect of imminent death recedes, I can look around: we’re surrounded by honey-scented purple heather punctuated by limestone outcrops.

The sky feels huge, the clouds shading from cotton wool to angry black, blue sky and diffuse golden sun. It’s wonderfully silent until the plump grouse startle ahead of us, grumbling. I’m running on Ilkley Moor, baht’at (unless my fleecy headband counts)! I’m starting to understand the appeal.

Perhaps sensing that, Mike’s encouragement becomes more muscular. “Come on!” he shouts. “Get moving!” It’s like walking with my dad, except he isn’t taunting me with a withheld Mars bar. The top is worth it: I love the 12 Apostles – a windswept stone circle – and the panoramic view over the Dales, Pennines and moors.

Instead of savouring it, however, it’s time to try “straight-lining”: picking a destination and heading there, path be damned. Mike hares off into an arbitrary patch of boggy, stony heather, like some kind of moorland anarchist. “Pick your feet up,” Rose advises. “And don’t get too close to the runner in front,” adds Hilary. There’s absolutely no danger of that.

The final mile is a sheer scramble downhill. “Brakes off, brain out,” Mike says: trust your legs and instincts. Against all odds, I love it with all my risk-averse heart. “This is great,” I hear myself saying, gleefully hopping from rock to tussock. I feel fearless, playful and childlike; subsequently pictures reveal I look like a flustered matron who has left Zoom Zumba in a hurry to bring the washing in.

But the feeling is real: I reach the bottom tingling all over. Lactic acid? Endorphins? Who cares?

The faster runners reappear, barely puffed after twice the distance; Burt the dog still wants to play. I’m ecstatically disinhibited at merely surviving. “How do you stretch your bum?” I ask peripheral vision Dave, a total stranger.

On the way home after chips in the pub – the best bit – I send my father a picture of me in “action”. “Wow!” he replies. I can almost hear his pint spilling: mission accomplished.

Would I go back?

North Leeds run all through winter, with head torches. Apparently, it’s stunning in the snow. Maybe I’ll … ha, of course I won’t. No.

Smugness points: 5/5

She survived. No sheep were harmed in the making of this image. Photograph by Richard Saker/The Observer

Bradford Millennium Way Relay

June 13, 2021

Five legs, 47 ¼ miles, 6300 feet of climb

A relay and an actual race. How exciting. We were delighted to dig out our race vests and buffs to take part in the Bradford Millennium Way Relay, organized by Saltaire Striders. It starts and ends in Bingley, and takes in Wilsden, Denholme, Oxenhope, Haworth, Oakworth, Steeton, Silsden, Addingham and Ilkley. We’re still in a pandemic of course, so there were restrictions, including staggered starts for some legs. Maybe the hardest loss was the exceptional cakes baked by the people of Laycock, the thought of which kept the Leg 3 pair in 2020 going for the entire leg, because they knew they had set a strawberry tart aside before they set off, to be consumed when they returned to pick up the car at the end. (Canny.) Some may think this relay not particularly “felly”, but there are plenty of moors and fields and glorious Yorkshire landscape. And, as leg 1 will attest, plenty of hills. The forecast was for heat and sun, and it delivered, though the day became more overcast than predicted. We put out a mixed team, expertly organized by our new women’s captain Emma Lane (thanks Emma), and Team 16 had a fine day out. Reports from three legs below.

Leg 1: Beckfoot Lane, Bingley to Penistone Hill Country Park, 10 miles, 1789 feet

Pair: Ann Brydson Hall and Andrew Sugden

The first and final legs of a relay usually go to the strongest runners in a team. A fast start and you stamp your authority on the race and give your team-mates a lift. The final runner(s) then run their hearts out for the best possible final position. I bet Usain Bolt used to run the first or last leg. Anyhoo. I do hope that Ann and I lived up to expectations. Ten miles with lots and lots of hills on a hot day was quite a challenge but I think we did pretty good really. Between us there was a combined age of 119 years but we still passed much younger runners, some who were walking on the flats after six miles. Maybe we were picked for our experience and wisdom? Well, perhaps not, as we nearly missed the start having jogged too far down Beckett Lane and before they put out the big START signs.

I must say that the first leg is a delight and I loved my little recce runs despite getting hopelessly lost twice. The leg has pretty villages (not Denholme), beautiful woodland, moorland and waterfalls although I’m not sure how much of it Ann noticed. My partner put in a gritty performance and one steep hill of only 20 metres was the only time I saw her power-walk. That last uphill mile to the finish goes on forever and whilst others walked, Ann carried on running. BMWR was my first race for NLFR and it was great fun. Proud to wear my new vest.

— Andrew Sugden

Leg 2 : Penistone Hill Country Park to Laycock, 9 miles, 1230 feet

Pair: Liz Casey and Caroline Clarke (representing the VF60 category!)

The day dawned bright, fine and warm. I was woken earlier than expected by Liz who’d had a family emergency overnight which meant our travel plans needed to change and an earlier than expected start was needed. As I hadn’t planned to drive to Laycock I relied totally on Google Maps which sent me to a closed road! Mild panic, I called Liz to explain, abandoned Sat Nav in favour of a couple of dog walking blokes who gave me correct directions and arrived in Laycock, met Liz with plenty of time and drove to the start. Well not quite, we slightly under-shot the start. Still, we had a good warm up from there to the handover point.

It was strange to be on Penistone Hill in fine weather, rather than the usual freezing gales, horizontal rain and fancy dress characteristic of the Woodentops races held in the depth of winter.

This relay is always popular amongst local clubs and was full so there were lots of familiar faces waiting in anticipation of their leg 1 friends arriving before the mass start. Liz and I chatted to friends from other clubs during our wait but it didn’t last long: Ann and Andrew didn’t disappoint and handed over the baton in plenty of time to avoid the mass start.

We set off in great running conditions, very dry underfoot if a little warm. Route-finding was easy due to Liz’s knowledge of the race and the much needed recce.

A note to fellow runners. We were disappointed to find a lot of the gates en route left open in fields containing livestock with no sign of the previous runners! This behaviour gives runners a bad name and potentially spoils everything for others if farmers complain. Please, people, shut gates after you and follow the Countryside Code. The rules were pretty relaxed on the day apart from that one request. The least we can do is observe them.

We ran through a superb mixture of moorland, valleys, fields, farms and woodland and finally that killer hill from Goose Eye to Laycock and the finish line outside the village hall. Sadly no cakes were on sale due to Covid but a handy collapsible water cup was given to all competitors.

Thanks to Emma Lane for organising and for Saltaire Striders for putting on the race. It was great to see so many happy people delighted to be racing again. A special thanks and congratulations to team-mate Liz for her nav skills and for the completion of a 54-mile ultra the following week!

— Caroline Clarke

Leg 2: Liz Casey and Caroline Clarke

Leg 3: Laycock to Silsden, 8 miles, 811 feet

Pair: Emma Lane and Rose George

This is a good opportunity to highlight what Emma did in May: to thank St. Gemma’s Hospice, which cared for her granddad George when he died earlier this year, Emma decided to do a testing challenge. Every day, she would get up and run a number of kilometres to match the day’s date. No rest, no break. And she did it, splendidly. I joined her for a couple of runs and though my chosen route had plenty of inclines, she was full steam ahead up them. On her last day, she looked fresh and comfortable, though she had run a total of 496 kilometres. So she was uncertain about what form she’d be in for the relay, even after a week’s rest. She didn’t need to worry: all that fitness and all that stamina meant she was in great form and fresher than I was. I was worried though, by the weather forecast. I droop in hot weather, and our leg would set off near midday. I packed a cap and plenty of water and hoped for the best. Emma’s mum and fellow NLFR runner Hilary gave us a lift to the start (she’s coming back from injury otherwise would have taken part), and we had plenty of what Emma and I both call “faffing time.” Time to get your head in place, time to say hello to people you always saw at races but haven’t seen in 18 months, time for several toilet visits, time to calm the race nerves. Race nerves! Hello old friends, I haven’t seen you for a while. Actually, I didn’t have any, maybe because this was such a novel experience. We saw our friends Marion and Louise from Fellanddale finish really strongly, though Louise looked extremely overheated. Mind, they’d just run up Goose Eye, a fearsome hill that finishes Leg 2. We thought our Leg 2 pair might make it before the mass start, but they didn’t so we mingled out on the road. There was no staggered start although there were more than 20 pairs, which was odd, because the route goes up a narrow track and then along another narrow track, and there was congestion. Still, as soon as we got to the fields, it spaced out. The route has 800 feet of climb but it’s a net downhill, though not in that first mile. I’d recced the route as Emma was a bit busy doing her challenge and I was happy to, and I thought I knew most of it well enough. There were a couple of points when I hesitated, but plenty where I knew where I was and where I was going, which is always a nice feeling. Hilary and my partner Neil were out on bikes and kept popping up like welcome sprites along the route. It was always great to see them but as we went on, and the sun shone, I began to flag, especially as we approached the Keighley bypass, my least favourite part of the route, which involves you running into oncoming traffic. It had been coned off though, which made it a more tolerable experience than during recces, where I’d been confined to an uneven and frankly alarming verge. But over the bypass and to the bridge, and there were Hilary and Neil, smiling and cheering. Neil, god bless him, was holding a bottle of water that was partly iced and it was the best thing I’d ever seen. I poured it over my head and felt instantly better. After the first mile or so everyone had spaced out, there was no more overtaking. We had overtaken a Baildon pair, but lost that advantage when I started fading, and although we had them in our sights, we didn’t catch them again. It’s an enjoyable route, through fields and farms and woodlands, and with very few technical bits. Also, you get to cross a railway track and talk to cows.

Clouds covered the sun, I perked up, and we arrived at Silsden in 1.32:35, in 50th position out of 68. One of the marshals had a bucket of water and a sponge by his table: until you have run in heat and sponged water over your head you have not known true relief. (I know, it was only 8 miles. But I’m a hot weather wimp.) And Emma? She was fresh as a daisy.

— Rose George

Leg 5: Ilkley to Bradford & Bingley rugby club, 10.7 miles

Pair: Phil Davies and Andy Foster

Me (Andy) and Phil started the leg with a walk of shame. We knew that if our leg 4 runners hadn’t reached their finish before a certain time we would have to join the mass start. So here we were waiting with the rest of the leg 5 runners for the go ahead and over the brow of the hill came Lisa and Ruth. We were chuffed to be able to avoid the mass start so we jogged over to the start and sprinted off once Lisa and Ruth had reached us. But around 50m from the start we heard shouting and turned around to loads of mass start runners calling us back to the start. Apparently even if your previous pair arrives before the mass start, within a certain time you have to leave with the mass start anyway. So then came the walk of shame back to the start line, where we received some friendly stick from some Roundhay Runners women for our “false” start.

Luckily that meant we were at the front for the mass start and the duo from Roundhay became good pace keepers for the first 3 or so miles past White Wells and up Rocky Valley. Phil was apologetic for his fitness prior to the race as he was just getting back into the swing of things after a few injuries earlier in the year, but he kept a good pace and we really shone during the downhill sections with a little more confidence than the other trail runners on rocky, technical sections. Around 7 miles in, near the Glen House Pub, we heard the news of a Sterling goal for England which spurred us on providing us with some needed distraction in the form of some football crack for the next mile or so to the canal. The final part of the run is the least exciting, over some football fields and a little bit of road running but the end was in sight and we put the thrusters on a little to make sure two runners behind us didn’t catch up. We finished our leg which was around 17.5km in 1hr 43mins. A quick couple of minutes to catch our breath followed by a brisk walk up the hill to catch our train back to Ilkley.

— Andy Foster

Leg 4: Lisa Rudkin and Ruth Dorrington

The Lancashireman off-road “marathon”

A race. An actual race. A race with real numbers that you pin to your club vest with actual pins. Real checkpoints. Real marshals. Everything real. Everything vivid. Everything I have not done for six months, since FRB and I did the 30-mile Haworth Hobble in March, in the last weekend before lockdown. For this race, timing was important. A week before it was due to be run, we still hadn’t entered and the entry list – it had only 100 runners – was full. Oh. I wrote to Jamie, a fell-running mate of ours who organizes it, and congratulated him on the race selling out and cursing my lateness at entering. It’s not a passive aggressive message request for places, I wrote, meaning it. Anyway, the dodgy knee that I have had since a month into lockdown would be thankful that I was not going to be running the 28 miles of the Lancashireman off-road “marathon” (they are generous in Lancashire) on very imperfect training.

Jamie wrote back. He had a couple of places and would Neil and I like them?


The reasons against accepting:

  1. The Lancashireman is 28 miles long.
  2. The Lancashireman is 28 miles long.
  3. The Lancashireman is 28 miles long.

I had spent hours on my feet during a week in Scotland, but before that I’d not run beyond 15 miles for months, since the Fellsman was one of the first races to be cancelled. But I have form at running long runs unprepared. I said yes please to Jamie, and started eating everything. I was worried about my knee, as although my physio had decided my knee pain was due to inactive glutes, and finished with “go forth and run,” it was not getting better and sitting and lying both made it hurt. The only time it seemed OK was running, but not steeply downhill. But I accepted the places, hoped my knee would behave, and got quite excited.


I did a training session of mile efforts on the Wednesday, then no more running. I had a seriously crappy week for work/book reasons, and began to think that running for six or so hours across Lancashire countryside was exactly what I needed. We headed to Burnley on Saturday night, had a night at the Premier Inn for £33 (pandemic price), then up at 6.30 to eat our DIY breakfasts: Weetabix in Tupperware and an M&S baguette. Elite fuelling.

I was going to try Mountain Fuel again for this. I’ve used it once before and liked it and thought I needed all the help I could get. So I downed half a packet with my baguette, and filled my soft flasks with the other half. As usual I packed a full picnic: chocolate bars, sweets, flapjacks, Quorn sausages, Mountain Fuel sports jellies. The weather forecast was perfect, predicting single figure temperatures but outbreaks of sunshine. It would be cool on the tops though, and there would be a lot of tops, so I put on a merino long-sleeve with my vest.  

The race had been allowed to go ahead because it was going to be Covid-secure. That meant only turning up to get your race number 15 minutes before your designated start time, designated start times that set people off in groups of no more than six, only packaged food at checkpoints, and no milling. Everyone was conforming to this when we turned up, ready for our 8.21 start, and with little faffing time, we were set off. We had a plan: 10 minute-miling to start with, and steady steady all the way. That way, Neil thought, we could comfortably finish in six hours and beat our time of last year (just over 6.30). He also thought we could win the mixed pair category, but I tried to put that out of my head. Steady, think of your knee, steady, steady, steady.

Image by Neil Wallace

I thought I knew the route. I’d recced most of it last year, and we’d run it of course, though partly in pouring rain. The weather this year was so far beautiful, with clear sunny skies. Maybe that’s why I realised I couldn’t remember much of the second mile through woodland. This was going to be a theme for the whole route, as it turned out that once again, I knew sections but not necessarily in the right order.

The route mostly follows the Burnley Way, a path that Visit Lancashire describes with odd grammar as “a 40-mile adventure from industrial heritage, along waterways, through fields, parks, old farms, and Forest of Burnley woodlands to the wild South Pennine Moors.” The route “has been recently updated and revised into six easy sections.” Easy? I knew there were more than 4,000 feet of climb over the 28 miles and that the biggest climb of all was at mile 20. At least, deep inside I knew but I was refusing to think about it.

Seven miles in, we reached the part that had caused chaos last year, with runners all over the place trying to find an elusive footbridge. So this year I had studied it online, calculating that we had to turn south a third of a mile after Shore Hey farm. Neil had also worked out when to turn, and this year we mostly got it right. On the hill ahead of us, runners appeared like Scottish warriors in an epic film; they had gone too far and were on their way back. If you don’t accidentally detour at least once on the Lancashireman, you’ve probably done it wrong. Jamie & crew do their best, with the odd chalked LORM and arrow, and the Burnley Way is waymarked now and then with a sunny B, but there are plenty of miles where it isn’t.

By now the runners who had gone the right way and runners who had gone the wrong way were all converging, so that up the hill on the far side of the bridge, the narrow singletrack path of stone steps — known as the Ogglty-Cogglty — became bottlenecked. This is a usual situation in fell running, but not in fell running during a pandemic. I turned and courteously asked the man behind me to back off, and he did. Neil meanwhile had a man behind him so close, it was clear he’d had garlic the day before. Asked to Ogglty-Cogglty off, politely, he didn’t, so it couldn’t be dismissed as thoughtlessness. It’s not like anyone was going anywhere fast: the climb was steep, no-one was running it, and it was packed solid. I really try to dampen my judginess in life these days, else I would spend my life internally fuming at people getting too close, wearing masks wrong, just being wrong. But this was unsettling.

Out of the woods, the sun was warmer than forecast, and I was beginning to feel uncomfortably hot. We reached the first checkpoint, staffed by cheery marshals in green t-shirts. This was my first experience of a Covid-secure checkpoint and as advertised, all food was packaged – biscuits, chocolate bars, crisps – and water was dispensed from jugs. There could have been improvements such as a one-way funnel, but there was plenty of hand sanitizer and it was being done as safely as possible. You can never eliminate risk, just reduce it as best you can. A young woman who was pouring me water looked behind me and said, “well done Mum!”.

I was surprised, I think because I immediately pictured my own mother arriving behind me in a race. She is 80, and fabulous, and has been walking 12 miles a week during the pandemic, but she’s never going to be a fellrunner.

I asked the girl, stupidly, “your mother is running?”

“Yes, that’s her in the red.”

I turned to look. “How old is she?”


I said “oh shit,” and people laughed and I’m still not sure why I said that. There were no age categories in the mixed pair category and anyway, I wasn’t being competitive, remember? Still I kept an eye on her for a while until we drew away from her. Habit.

Soon we stopped to strip down to vest-only. Then onwards, up horrible tarmac, some fake-running for the photographer, who managed to make my short Welsh legs look even shorter.

My brain was busy calculating what was coming next. It was like that animation of a human brain using mechanical wheels and whirring. Finally the whirring stopped and I knew: Widdop reservoir and moorland. More whirring: A couple of miles across the tops of the moors, past Gorple Stones, down to Hurstwood reservoir and that would be halfway.

 Far off in front of us was a young woman who I thought we would never catch. Then, as we turned off the road to boggy paths around Widdop reservoir, she slowed, and we passed her easily. I don’t know if the Lancashireman counts as a fell race but if you don’t have fell experience, obviously that will show in the boggy bits. Not that I didn’t fall. I did, but I made sure to fall on a soft bit.

The view from Gorple Stones was beautiful, as it always is. Later, we learned that a runner had fallen here and dislocated his shoulder. He’d been content to run on, until the marshals pointed out that his bone was several centimetres forward from where it should have been.

Hurstwood. I couldn’t have sped up, but I didn’t need to slow down or stop. I felt quite good, and we made sure to run harmoniously for Jamie’s camera.

Along the way we encountered two men running ahead of us. One had a very bloodied head. He had fallen, also after Gorple Stones. He was OK to go on, and said he would wash off in a beck, then didn’t. Finally I offered him a wet wipe, then had to dig around in my pack for it as of course my first aid kit was at the bottom of my copious dry bag of kit. “Sorry lass,” said David, of the bloodied head. “Sorry to hold you back.” Oh, we’re not competitive said Rose (the same Rose who knows exactly by how many minutes they came second eventually in the mixed pair category and calculates that this was probably the same amount of minutes lost helping David but that’s fine).

We ran on together, past the next checkpoint, along the thankless Long Causeway tarmac road, past cloughs and gullies. Before dropping down into the hamlet of Portsmouth, we passed through fields that had a powerful stink. We passed a tractor approaching with a trailer full of more fragrant manure, then reached the path, turned and saw him spraying it exactly where we’d just been. Lucky escape.  

By now something strange was happening. I was running more. My legs would run when my brain didn’t want to. I felt stronger. It was very odd. Maybe it was the Mountain Fuel? It was useful though as the hardest climb was coming up, to Heald Moor and Thievley Pike. At this point, my poor memory was an advantage, because I had forgotten how long and steep the climb was, so I just put my head down and climbed. Behind me, two women were telling two other runners what was coming up. “Horrendous! The worst climb ever! It’s awful!” I wondered at this. It wasn’t horrendous, it definitely wasn’t the worst climb ever, and if it was that awful, why were you doing the race? It was a beautiful day, the sun was shining, the views back to the other side of the valley were lovely. Perhaps that negativity got them up the hill more easily. Whatever works.

Image by Neil Wallace

Me, I was enjoying it. I was running easily and not tiring. My knee was sore but not disabling. And we only had a few miles left. Down into the grandiose Townley Hall, where we ran past a footballer lying on the ground and I thought, I bet a fell-runner would run through whatever injury he has. Past families with ice-cream, and a young girl who looked at me and asked her mother what I was doing. “She’s running!” But I wasn’t at that point, so then I had to.

There was only one short real climb to go, but it was uphill to Todmorden Road before that. Then along above the railway, with runners around us clearly tiring but enduring, as we were. Through the Kilns, where I directed a chatty pair from Accrington. At least, she was chatty. He wasn’t, and had to be chivvied, if chivvying consists of “COME ON MICK.” I’ve never seen a man running with clingfilm wrapped around his leg before, and I won’t forget Mick’s. They were both doing the relay, which you could do in pairs or threes or more. Mick made it to the end, clingfilm and all.

Finally, after we had run away from Burnley to run back to it, we were running down into town, past someone getting their Morrison’s delivery, and a smile from the young woman driving the van, to the canal where of course I wanted to go to the wrong way and almost set off on the route again. The last bit seemed such a long stretch though it was probably only half a mile. Then, eventually, the sound of clapping and cheering and there was Sandygate plaza, and some steps to run up that were nothing as bad as Butt Lane at the end of the Yorkshireman, but also not flat. We got to Jamie at the top and then: where was the finish line? Stop, said Jamie, stop! You’ve finished. This is it. He was it.

28 miles on little training and through niggles and cramp, but it was fun. It was good to be out racing again amongst beautiful scenery and the like-minded. It was good to pin a number on my race vest again, and pull out the rainbow race socks. It was good to stop and eat the two Quorn sausages that I had been carrying for six hours. It was good to be out, away from bad news and more bad news, to run past a man with binoculars and think, what a lovely smile he has, to be greeted with good cheer by everyone, to have my sinuses cleared by fresh cow shit.

Six hours. Actually it was 6.07. That was fine, and 25 minutes quicker than we had done the year before. Better weather this time, but worse training. Though last year I had run the Yorkshireman a week earlier. We placed second mixed pair after a couple from Clayton-le-Moors. We will do better next year, because I will definitely be back to the dark side, if the pandemic allows.

p.s. My knee? It hurts.

It had to be done.

By Rose George

« Older posts