Category: Results (Page 1 of 2)

Carnethy 5

“It’s iconic.”

“How?”

“It just is.”

“But it’s only six miles long.”

“Aye. It’s still iconic.”

I didn’t believe it. I’d heard of the Carnethy 5, but I still couldn’t understand why it had such a reputation when it was short and when even the elevation per mile wasn’t that intimidating. But my partner Neil is from East Lothian, so we could combine the race – in MidLothian — with a family visit. Otherwise there were factors definitely against me agreeing to do it. It cost £17! That’s a road race price. And it would mean a nine-hour round trip to run a six mile race, something I would normally consider ludicrous. Then there was the small matter of Storm Dennis.

But I always like to visit Scotland, and I had run once before on the Pentland Hills, where the Carnethy 5 is based (it is named for Carnethy running club, which is in turn named for Carnethy, one of the Pentland hills). The race commemorates a 1302 battle that involved William Wallace. From Carnethy’s website:

In February 1302, a messenger arrived at Neidpath Tower to ask Sir Simon Fraser to meet someone at Biggar. Sir Simon Fraser rode hard, for the person he was to meet was none other than Scotland’s hero — Sir William Wallace. The Wallace’s plan was for himself to be seen gathering together an army up north, while Sir Simon waited with the main army in the south. Sure enough the plan worked, for when the English heard that The Wallace was getting ready to attack from the north, they left their winter quarters in Edinburgh heading south — Sir Simon waited.

Randolf the English General was unprepared for a fight. His army was separated into three groups of 10,000 each, some miles apart. At Dryden they suddenly found themselves confronted by 8,500 Scots. Colmyn, Saintclair and Fraser, loyal friends of Wallace soon carried the day, and rushed on to Rosewell to meet the 2nd army. The weary Scots were again triumphant, but tired, and when yet another 10,000 men approached they were ready to flee. But Sir Simon was a crafty gent, he had been warned about the 3rd army, and had sent a few ot his men to carry two tree trunks up a neighbouring hill. Then Sir Simon shouted to his men… Well, part of the old ballad says it better:

“Look ower, look ower, on yonder hill,”
Quo’ Sir Simon lood and clear,
They blich’t and saw the lift gao ill,
Then saw a cross appear.
“Tis gude St. Andrew” cried ae man,
Then doon they gaed to pray,
“Gae to,” they heard the gude Sir Simon,
“Gae to,” we’ll win the day.”

The inspired Scots rushed into battle!

This would be the 50th running of the race, so I knew that if they could go ahead, they would. But fell races and hill races were being cancelled, and we checked the forecast regularly in the week before, and it never got any better. Depending on which metereologists I checked (I’m fond of the Norwegians YR.no weather forecast), the winds were going to be between 40 and 75 miles an hour, and that stayed true until the Friday, when we set off. It didn’t matter that Storm Dennis was going to wreak more havoc in England than Scotland: we were going. I was sure the race would be called off. I know it had been run the year before even though runners had been told at the start that marshals and Mountain Rescue would be lying down because they wouldn’t be able to stand, the wind was so strong. Even so, I was sure that no race organizer would allow marshals to stand out for a few hours in 70mph winds.

Carnethy said they would make a decision at 11am on the Saturday. If we didn’t hear owt, the race would go ahead. The race starts at 2pm, and part of the reason for the cost is that runners get bussed to the start from race HQ at Beeslack High School in Penicuik. We had to set off at 11am to get to the school in good time, and the only clue as to Carnethy’s decision was a retweet from someone wishing everyone doing Carnethy 5 good luck. Even so, I didn’t believe it was on until we got to Penicuik and the car park was full and there were many lean people wandering about in waterproofs and lycra tights. I had been advised to bring “EVERYTHING” and so I had: although I run in shorts even in snow – my legs rarely get cold – I had brought long tights and plenty of layers. The race organizers required everyone to carry full body cover, and a long-sleeved top. In practice, most people in the hall seemed to be wearing all their kit at once, including me.

I was more nervous than usual. I’d had a race stress dream the night before (the one where you can’t find your kit or shoes or something), and I’d convinced myself that everyone in Scotland was a fabulous hill runner, and that they were all Jasmin Paris (who runs for Carnethy) and Finlay Wild (who always wins the Ben Nevis race), and that I would be the lumbering Englishwoman – actually half Welsh but that’s irrelevant – at the back. Tim, a Holcombe Harrier who Neil had met a few years ago at Trapain Law race, but whose wife is from up here, reassured me. The race field is no different to what you are used to, he said. All sorts. You won’t be last.

Dom was also running the race, as he was combining it with a visit to Edinburgh. It’s not often that we remember to get team photos but here is one:

See? I’m wearing EVERYTHING. Dom kept his jacket on throughout too.

I think I made five toilet visits, only four of which were necessary, and eventually, we made our way out to wait for a bus to be driven ten minutes to the start. The kit check was carried out in the bus queue, and consisted of, “have you got a map? Gloves? Hat? OK then.”

The bus took us to a field underneath Carnethy Hill, where a few marquees were managing to stay upright. The winds weren’t too bad down here, and my nerves were slightly soothed by the piper standing on a mound nearby, piping us up five snow-capped hills.

The hills are beautiful. Robert Louis Stevenson called them his “hills of home..” We’d got one of the last buses so didn’t have long to wait for the start. I managed to warm up, but still decided to keep my jacket on. I was kitted out excessively according to my usual standards: long tights, which I’ve only ever worn for Rombald’s in snow and cold, and a waterproof jacket.

There were announcements but most were carried away by the wind. I expect they were the usual: don’t do anything stupid and if you fall over find a marshal and report back to the marquees. And then we were off. Neil, who has run Carnethy before, had given me some tips: there was a long stretch of very boggy and wet ground before we began to rise up to climb Scald Law. Stay to the left, he said. It will still be boggy but better. Also, head for the tiny hi-viz dot standing by some green bushes, which is a marshal. I squinted, saw a tiny hi-viz dot, just about, and agreed to do that. There was a gunshot, or cannon, or something, and we set off. Steady away, Rose, you will need your strength for the wind. Even so I was anxious: don’t be last, don’t be last.

So silly.

I ran as best I could, though the ground was not ground but swamp, and there was a beck crossing. So even this first half mile was hard going, as your legs are working twice as hard to accommodate the water. I felt neither good nor bad, I just kept going. Carnethy 5 has a purity to its planning: you go up and then you come down, five times.

In Carnethy’s description: “The race is over rough open hillside, through thick heather and boggy/rocky sections of ground, with minimal paths. The race involves 2,500′ of very steep ascent and descent, some of which you will struggle to run. It’s fair to say this race will feel a lot harder than a flat road race, but it is not beyond anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. As a very rough guide, the race organiser completes this race in somewhere between his road 10k and half marathon times.”

I climbed to Scald Law, I loved the descent, I climbed again to South Black Hill, I loved the descent, East Kip, I loved the descent, and then there was West Kip.

I can’t remember which hill I was climbing, but at one point I nearly fell backwards. A kind arm stopped me and righted me, and that was the nature of this race: there was kindness and people looking out for each other. The solidarity of fighting extreme elements. Neil had a similar experience except a man grabbed his buttocks to keep him upright. My assistance was more decorous, and I was grateful for it.

West Kip though was something else. This was the fourth hill, and by now I had begun to tire of the wind, but the wind knew this and decided to re-stoke its engines. I had my hood up as it was also hailing – of course – so I kept bumping into people as I could neither hear nor see them coming. We all trudged up as best we could. Towards the top, I was on my hands and knees and standing upright seemed actually dangerous. Here is a photograph that Peter MacDonald, one of the marshals on the top of West Kip, took, though how he managed to stay standing and use a camera is an enigma.

Image by Peter MacDonald

I had my phone with me, and I turned round a couple of times to look, and there were runners behind me, a trail of colour over the brown bracken and white snow of the hills, and it was beautiful but not enough for me to consider taking off my gloves, getting out my phone, unwrapping it from its weather-proof sandwich bag, wiping my fingers dry enough that the phone would recognise them, taking a picture and doing it all in the reverse. Too much effort. No photos.

I was so thankful to the marshals on top of these hills. The wind was so strong, it was an assault. I usually object to people using the word “brutal” about races, as most are not, not really. But this section, this struggle to stay upright while your pack is being blown off you and while you could fall off the hill: this section was brutal. I have run Tour of Pendle in a blizzard, and it was hard. I have run in hail so biting it gave me pockmarks. But I don’t think I’ve ever had to fight the weather as much as on this race. It got to the point on West Kip where it was so extreme that I had to laugh at it. What else can you do? You can’t reverse. You have to get off the hill. You may as well glory in the extremity of it and keep running.

We turned on the summit to descend and suddenly the wind was even more dangerous, because the descent was tricky and the wind was now behind: it didn’t get us on the top so now it wanted to push us down a steep slope. I persevered, and my legs began to enjoy the descent, steep at first then levelling out. Not flat though: I knew this because I was overtaking people and I only ever do that on descents. The final part as we descended towards the Howe, actually a house overlooking Loganlea reservoir, was a grassy muddy bank. I slipped, and then suddenly slid at great speed, so fast I didn’t know how to stop, until a bush helped me out, luckily just before the beck. It was great fun and I was laughing out loud, and quietly thankful that no rocks had punctured my backside on the way. The power of that slide! A fellow runner congratulated me on it and I agreed that yes, it was some of my finest work.

Onwards to the reservoir, then to the cut-off, which I had forgotten about. Nor had I checked my watch. The cut-off was 1 hour 15, and I think I got there in about an hour but as I didn’t even realise it was a cut-off, that didn’t matter. About 20 runners didn’t make it. (I mean, they weren’t quick enough, not that they expired.)

Up again now, for the final climb to Carnethy Hill. I was alongside a man in shorts who said he rather regretted not wearing long trousers, as his legs were blue. I got myself up the hill and then there was the joy of the final descent. Tim had warned me before about this part, that there was gorse that bit and rocks that tripped, and that the two together were rather testing. But much of the gorse and heather had been burned and tamed. There were a few sections of scree-sliding, and then a hell-for-leather how-do-I-stop careering, which was fun. For a while I couldn’t figure out why I could hear the powerful jet engines of an airliner, until I realised it was the wind in my hood.

Then the long slog back over the swamp and through the beck to the finish. A photographer at the beck got some excellent pictures, though not of me (I stayed upright).

Image by Paul Dobson

And there were the feather flags of the finish, and Neil standing waiting for me. I had a cup of hot liquid which may have been tea or coffee and it didn’t matter at all which, and a biscuit. Then Neil said, shall we run back instead of waiting for buses? And I must have been on such a high from the final descent that I agreed without question. A marshal gave us directions for the three miles back to the school, which ended up being mostly farm tracks and woodland, so it was pleasant.

Just as we approached Beeslack High School, the rain began and then it intensified, and we arrived back to a downpour. There were changing rooms and showers but with 500 entrants, including a healthy proportion of women, there was no room, so I had a wet-wipe shower in the middle of the sports hall, with the help of a judiciously placed towel. Then I headed to the kitchen for food, which was a lentil dal or a spicier vegetable curry, and it was delicious. In fact, the £17 was good value, as we had also been given a bottle of Carnethy 5 beer, a 50th anniversary mug and a beer mat.

I realised afterwards that I’d been sitting next to a woman who had run the whole race although she was 80 or thereabouts. I wish I’d known because I would have genuflected at her feet. In the main hall, Jasmin Paris and her husband were hanging out, and I got starstruck, by Jasmin as well as by her daughter Rowan, who became as famous as her mum after the Spine Race. I let them be though. Nobody wants to be bothered by genuflecting strangers, do they?

We didn’t stay for prizegiving, although I did want to see the female and male winner each get a broadsword. Me, I got my beer and beer mat and mug, and I was happy to have those as well as significant satisfaction at having run a race in actually brutal conditions, and doing alright. Do I think they were right to run the race? Yes.

I came 404th out of 503 runners, with a time of 1:38, and I’m pleased with that. Dom came 199th, in 1:20. I think I’ll be back.

— Rose George

Featured image by Peter MacDonald

Penmaenmawr

Lisa Rudkin and I competed in the Penmaenmawr fell race in North Wales on Saturday 16th November as an alternative to the Tour of Pendle back in Lancashire. We stayed over the night before with Lisa’s mum who lives in Penmaenmawr. She made sure we were fuelled up on home made chips!

The race was organised by Eryri Harriers and is in its 45th year. The distance is between 9 to 10 miles depending on which pre-race information was accurate, with 1700ft ascent. There was drizzly rain, mist on the tops, a long boggy stretch, obligatory mud and pools of water on the runnable tracks and a rocky, muddy slippy descent to finish.

I finished in 96th position, Lisa 97th out of 157 finishers. Lisa should have finished higher up but took a wrong turning in the clag. Everyone received a bottle of local ale at the finish. It made a nice change to go ‘international’! 

Results are here.

Sharon Williams

Photos

Many thanks to Dave and Eileen Woodhead for finding one of the many huge puddles and taking some photos. woodentops.org.uk

First puddle
Second Puddle

Final results

PosNo.SurnameFirst NameClubCatTimeM/FMPosFPosCatPos
1127AdamsTomIlkley Harrierssen00:52:51M1 1
2126WoodJackIlkley Harrierssen00:53:39M2 2
3134HowieRobinWharfedale Harrierssen00:56:33M3 3
486HassellEthanWharfedale Harrierssen01:00:15M4 4
5137CoxMatthewIlkley Harriersv4001:00:42M5 1
6139AddeyBobU/Av4001:01:53M6 2
7117DennissJonIlkley Harrierssen01:02:59M7 5
8129StirkAdamWharfedale Harrierssen01:03:15M8 6
9128LomasAdamHyde Park Harrierssen01:03:42M9 7
10114GurneyMikeU/Av4001:03:46M10 3
11140StellSamU/Av4001:05:08M11 4
12104GidlowPaulHorsforth Harriersv4001:05:35M12 5
1391LambGavinIlkley Harriersv4001:05:47M13 6
1495PageHollyCalder Valleysen01:06:11F 11
1585HartleyAdamU/Asen01:06:19M14 8
16132McCallRossOtleysen01:06:51M15 9
1784McGuireDaveWharfedale Harriersv5001:07:24M16 1
18105SmithRichardOtleysen01:08:23M17 10
1993PillingGrahamP&Bv4001:08:40M18 7
20122SmithTomBowlandv5001:09:04M19 2
2190RobertsAnnieTodmorden Harrierssen01:09:07F 22
2281FosterDaleU/Av4001:10:02M20 8
23125RussellAlanSaltaire Striderssen01:10:04M21 11
24112FurlongIanNLFRsen01:10:14M22 12
2594PillingRachelP&Bsen01:10:31F 33
26133WebbSteveValley Stridersv5001:11:07M23 3
27141ClaytonDanielU/Av4001:11:30M24 9
28119BlakelyMatthewRoundhay Runnersv4001:12:33M25 10
29103WalmsleyNicolaRoundhay Runnerssen01:13:02F 44
30118LifeAlanClaytonv5001:13:28M26 4
31138WoodHelenIlkley Harrierssen01:13:41F 55
32102CalderbankPaulIlkley Harriersv6001:13:53M27 1
33135PadillaMonicaWharfedale Harrierssen01:15:29F 66
34100BoothmanJohnBarlickv5001:16:14M28 5
35108TomanMichaelAccrington RRv5001:16:15M29 6
36107WilcockMattTrawdenv5001:17:08M30 7
37120MossMarcusRoundhay Runnersv4001:17:30M31 11
38110MartinLawrencePudsey Pacerssen01:18:56M32 13
39113CarruthersAndrewHalesowenv5001:19:12M33 8
40124RhodesJoHyde Park Harrierssen01:25:07F 77
41115JacksonNiamhRoundhay Runnerssen01:25:51F 88
4278EvansMarkM’boro & Cleveland Hv5001:25:52M34 9
4387FairburnNeilBaildon Runnersv5001:26:41M35 10
4479McMullanJessicaRoundhay Runnersv4001:27:55F 91
4592FryerCaroleCalder Valleyv5001:30:01F 101
46130SeimsAmandaValley Stridersv4001:30:11F 112
47136BennettPaulBramley Breezersv5001:32:20M36 11
4888WalkerJohnRoundhay Runnersv5001:33:05M37 12
49131YeuyDavidU/Asen01:34:04M38 14
50106ShortMarcHorsforth Fellandalev4001:34:52M39 12
51123CarnforthThomasU/Asen01:36:21M40 15
5296HarrisNickRossendalev7001:38:26M41 1
5397MyersRobBaildon Runnersv6001:38:27M42 2
5483UnderwoodHelenRoundhay Runnerssen01:39:18F 129
55101RobinsonPhilNidd Valleyv5001:39:36M43 13
5699MorleySueKnaresborough Stridersv6001:39:49F 131
57121LaneEmmaNLFRsen01:41:13F 1410
58111SunderlandJoanneRoundhay Runnersv4001:43:06F 153
5989ThompsonGeoffWharfedale Harriersv6001:47:08M44 3
60109AllanAndrewPudsey Pacersv5001:51:25M45 14
6180WoodEdnaKnaresborough Stridersv5001:53:19F 162
62116GillottRuthU/Av4001:54:41F 174
6382LavercockJulieSalford Harriersv5002:07:11F 183
6498CardinaleAntonioOtleyv7002:30:20M46 2

Also available on Racebest

Dick Hudson’s

My friend N. doesn’t do much fell running, but now, after marshalling for a few years at Three Peaks, has decided to do it in earnest. She began looking for qualifiers right after the race last weekend, and found Black Fell. Pre-entry but a guaranteed entry for elite runners. She asked a reasonable question: is this normal for a fell race? Isn’t it a bit, well, elitist?

I agreed that it was. And that it wasn’t normal. There’s none of that at fell races usually, I told her. Your changing room is the boot of the car in a freezing car-park on top of a windy hill or in a wet field, you might get a wash in a river if you’re lucky, there are no airs and graces, and no elitism when you can mix with Brownlees and their ilk in the pub afterwards.

N. had run Dick Hudson’s last year and decided to do it again. It was my first time running it. I wasn’t sure my legs were up to it as they’ve been sore with DOMs all week, but by Thursday that had worn off. And who can resist a race named after a pub?

The weather didn’t look promising, and it didn’t sound promising when the rain pounded on the skylights in my house just before we were due to set off. I suspected Wharfedale Harriers wouldn’t require full kit but I took it anyway, and we headed to Ilkley. We found Hilary, Emma, Ann and Clare already in the car park, and set off up to what Wharfedale calls the Barrier car park (but I and Google call the White Wells car park). There, for N, was a perfect fell race set up: numbers being dispensed out of the back of a van. I reckon there were about 150 by the time we gathered at the barrier (I was 100). The rain had stopped, my jacket had been put away, and we were off. I was carrying water and a jacket; many runners had no kit at all.

N. had told me that everyone goes however they like up the ridge, and I watched people go up two different routes, both of which looked short and steep and soft underfoot, but I followed the people going the conventional way up to White Wells. I thought I’d be walking most of this climb but my legs did an extraordinary thing and kept running. I kept Ann in my sights because she’s such a good climber, and managed to stay with her until the top of the moor when it flattened out and she zoomed off. I’d looked at the map before setting off and knew it was an out and back and that we went past the Twelve Apostles, but I couldn’t remember ever running the route to Dick Hudson’s before. I know the moors of Ilkley and Rombald enough to recognise paths, but not enough that I can’t get lost. Even so I didn’t pay much attention to where I was heading but just followed the Otley man in front of me. There were a few miles of nice gradient, though it was rocky and tricky. I heard someone fall behind me and turned to look, but she had people helping her so I carried on. It turns out it was Clare, who twisted her ankle and had to walk back. (Hope you recover quickly Clare.)

It was raining by now and I was cold but I was running well enough that I decided to run through it. I’d had a tough time at Three Peaks with cramp, so I was taking advantage of the months of training that were in my legs. Onwards, and then a strange thing started happening, and a few people overtook me who seemed to be young, quick men. I couldn’t understand why: were they just having a bad day? But I dismissed the mystery and perservered, all the way to the final steep field and the descent to Dick Hudson’s pub, where I shouted my number to the sodden-looking but cheerful marshal, touched the gate, turned round and set off back.

I got through the gate again and there was Rowan from Kirkstall coming towards me. This made no sense. He is tremendously quick. But sometimes he likes to float around races so I thought perhaps this was one of them. Perhaps he had chosen an uphill route to the ridge that had been really long? But I put it out of my mind because I had to concentrate on what was feeling like a slog, because it was (nice long descent = not so nice uphill return). My legs were heavy and I was cold. But the time and distance passed, and we got to the flagstones, and I managed to get some places by hurtling down the flagstones. Then it happened again, that much faster runners were overtaking me. I gave way to a couple, as I could hear their speed was greater than mine, and by now we were on narrow trods, as I’d followed people going the softer way back past the conifers and bypassing White Wells. I didn’t much want to be hefted into the bracken by someone who couldn’t control his momentum so giving way was self-preservation.

I enjoyed the descent, although my contact lens was giving me trouble, making it harder than it should have been to see all the rocks and obstacles, particularly now the evening was turning to dusk. But I stayed upright until just before the path, when I apparently decided a bum-slide would be better. Then a quick pelt downhill to the finish, which in good fell-race tradition was someone taking numbers at the barrier.

With the post-race milling around, I learned the answer to the mystery of the improbably quick yet behind-me blokes. They had all got lost.

What? On an out-and-back?

Not that I can laugh, having got lost on Ingleborough out-and-back. But I’d got lost in thick clag. And these moors were our local ones. And Wharfedale Harriers had put a map on their website. Straight out, straight back. I heard a couple of varieties of lostness: Rowan said he’d ended up at a barn (maybe the shooting hut on Burley Moor?). Others said they turned left after Twelve Apostles rather than going straight on, which would take them to Horniman’s Well. Most had done a mile and a bit extra, including David from Chapel A, who I have never before beaten in a race and never will again.

I really love evening fell races, and this was a beauty: the gathering twilight of the moor, the silence studded by the sound of thudding feet and sometimes a bird, the feeling when you finish that you can’t think of anything else you’d rather have done with your evening, then the satisfying fatigue that comes from effort, that rolls you into your bed, where you run the race all over again in your dreams.

—Rose George

Heptonstall : the return

This was my third year of running Heptonstall Fell Race. The first year it rained all the way round. The second year I got lost. And here I am again on the cobblestones, listening to a kindly vicar say actually very sensible Christian things (I am an atheist but think there is a lot of sense in the Bible). He said he had tried to find quotes appropriate to what we were about to do, so he wished us perseverance, and also — though I forget the exact phrasing — to go forth and find fellowship while running. It was nice, and I was grateful for it, because I was dreading the race. My nerves were all over the place, and they weren’t calmed by me setting off for the toilets 15 minutes before the start and realising I had forgotten to put in my contact lens. I would still have been able to see, but my lens helps me pick out tree roots and rocks and I knew there would be plenty of both on the route. So I had to run quarter of a mile up the road to the field of car parking, put in my lens in a state of panic, which is the state in which it usually takes me 10 minutes and several lenses to get it right, then run down to the start and hope I didn’t need the toilet again.

What was I nervous about? I’d run the Yorkshire vets race the day before. (Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association, not animal doctors.) I don’t normally do double-header weekends, but I hadn’t done many vets races last season, and they are friendly and fun. They are also oddly encouraging because when you are passed by people 20 years older than you (you know this because you wear your age category on your back), it is inspiring, not demoralising. It’s my last year in the F45 category, and it’s going to get no easier in F50 because there’s some fiercely good over-50s. Also inspiring.

The race was only five miles long, and it was around Middleton Park, which is a nice wooded area of Leeds. But I found it very tough. I ran most of the hills, but still, I had heavy legs, and I was slower than I’d expected. I can explain some of that. As part of HRT, I have to take progesterone for 10 days a month. This is the progesterone time, and it always makes me depressed, dopey, bloated and ravenous. Taking progesterone for 10 days is like being prescribed PMT for ten days. Fun.

So I was worried I’d feel like as sluggish as I had at the Vets. And I had usual pre-race nerves too. In short, I was really good company. At registration, the women handing out the numbers complimented me on my handwriting (I was probably the only person who’d filled out the FRA form with a calligraphy pen) then asked if I minded having number 13. I said no, because how could things go worse than last year?

There were lots of people I knew also doing the race — I spotted fellow NLFR Adam, Andrew and Martin variously in toilet queues and doing pre-race warm-ups though as often happens we weren’t organised enough for a team photo — and we gathered together at the start. Amongst them were Louise and Izzy, who like me have been getting run coaching for the last eight weeks from my partner Neil, who is now fully qualified as a coach and has set up as Run Brave coaching (website to come, Facebook page here). We have all noticed major improvements in form and understanding, and we have all been getting really good race times. When I ran Rombald Stride, I felt great, and ran all the runnable bits, which doesn’t normally happen, and got a 20 minute PB over a 23 mile race.

But that seemed a long way off as we waited on the cobblestones for the vicar to blow his horn (that is not code). The race organiser gave his announcements and said that the route was more flagged than last year, which was good news for me. And then we were off. And as soon as I started running, I realised:

This was going to be OK. I felt good. I felt strong.

And I felt strong nearly all the way round, for 14.8 miles of tracks and trods and bogs and fields and hills and becks and paths, and 2,905 feet of climb. We had done a recce of the route a few weeks earlier, but although I could remember parts, I couldn’t remember which order they came in, and there were long stretches I’d forgotten, and only remembered when I got to them. But I knew that after the climb up the cobblestones, there was a short sharp descent into the woods, then, immediately, a steep climb back up to the top of the valley that we had just descended. And that is the joyous perversity of Heptonstall all over, and I love it. I knew I was going to be OK when I found myself running up the fields. I deliberately use “found myself” because it seemed like an impulse that was not a decision. It happened again and again: my brain said, you’re tired, but then my legs started to run. A strange but wonderful feeling that I remembered from Rombald Stride. Here is a good illustration of how I felt on Rombald’s:

Heptonstall has cut-offs, a phrase I usually dread, but they are more generous than the Three Peaks ones, so I put them out of my head and just resolved to do my best. FRB, trying to calm me down before the race, when I had made a comment yet again about getting lost, advised me to keep my map handy and look at it whenever I was walking uphill, and locate myself on it by remembering the checkpoints. Of course I forgot to take my map out of my pack. And for the first three checkpoints, there were plenty of people around, and throughout the race, an extremely generous amount of flags. I knew though that things would get stretched out at CP3. Before that, there was what felt like a very very long nav section over open moorland. It was flat/undulating, but the bogs sapped the legs, and we were only a couple of miles in. It felt like it would never stop.

But it did because it always does. We passed a standing stone, where a cheery fellow was dispensing “well done”s to everyone (a fact I appreciate when some supporters only cheer for their own club mates), then to the trig, round the trig and off to a delightful descent. At this point during the recce I had fallen over, and so I decided to do the same thing. I was trying to overtake a man in front, but just as I approached him, my brain said, “he’s wearing a green t-shirt, I wonder if he’s a Chapel Allerton runner” when it should have been saying, “there’s a cunningly hidden tussock there, watch your step.” But I didn’t and I went flying, nearly taking out the man in green. It was a soft landing though — my brain had planned that bit right — so apart from some scraped skin and muck on my elbow, I was fine. Bounce, and back up. I’d worked on my bouncing skills on Rombald’s, where I fell three times, once on ice, twice over my own feet. On the third fall, Louise had said with admiration, “you actually did a commando roll.”

I can’t remember the next stretch, the time passed, the moor rose up to meet me, and then we were descending to the beck, and up a steep road to a steep hill. I knew the road because it’s part of the Widdop fell race, so I steeled myself to run up it. I turned the corner and there, like a vision, was a mass of Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team, red-dressed angels perched on a wall. They were fantastic. They are fantastic anyway because of what they do, but here they were cheering everyone and being a big puff of sheer goodwill, and I thought they were great.

Up a very steep bank, onwards, and then I can’t remember the next stretch until the reservoir, and I remembered to cut down through the grass, because I’d gone wrong there the first year, and then there was a long long track up to High Rakes, and I ran and kept running, and still felt good. I had the usual picnic with me, and I made sure to fuel. But actually I didn’t have much over three hours: a mouthful of raisins, a gel, a small piece of Kendal mint-cake and a jelly-baby. Ahead of me was Aileen, a really impressive 60+ runner from Stainland Lions. She is super steady, so I followed her. FRB had asked me what my tactics were, and I had come up with “not get lost” but look, here I was being tactical. As in, hang on to Aileen.

Later, we got to the dell where I had got horribly lost the year before. There was no chance of that this year, because I had learned during the recce where the route went, and even if I failed to turn on the right bridge, as I’d done last year, I knew how to find the route and most importantly where it was. We’d only been about 100 metres away from it the year before. There was also no chance because the marshals were on the crucial bridge this year. Some of the marshals were scouts — thank you scouts — and one of them was sitting on a rock with a clipboard, asking quite quietly for numbers, and when I first saw him I thought he was a woodland sprite. Over the stream and up the steep bank, along the track and keeping an eye for the flag on the left that signalled another steep climb.

I will mention my shoes, because I ran on plenty of hard surfaces during this race and they should have been hurting but weren’t. Two weeks ago I’d fallen for the hype around Inov-8’s £140 Graphene Mudclaws. Graphene for the extraordinary lugs, a Kevlar upper. My friend Chris had got a pair and worn them on the recce and kept saying with wonder, “they’re like slippers”. It’s difficult to imagine a pair of shoes built for serious mud and bog and rocks could feel like slippers. Another friend had got a pair and said she was thinking of wearing them for the Three Peaks because the cleats were so big, they were actually really comfortable on hard surface (of which there is plenty on the Three Peaks route, a race you could probably do in road shoes). I’d only worn mine for the first time the day before on the Vets’ race, and the toe box was narrower than I was used to, and I worried my wide feet would start to suffer. But I decided to wear them, and they were brilliant. I got a sore little toe, but otherwise: superb grip, and comfortable even on hard tracks. Not quite slippers, but not far off.

(I’m never going to wear those gaiters though.)

Also I managed to keep them on my feet. Heptonstall includes an infamous bog, where fell runners have disappeared and not been found for centuries. Not really, but it is deep and it is wide and it is boggy. The official advice had been to sweep round it from the left, but I followed the people in front as they didn’t appear to be sinking and went straight through and it was barely a bog at all. By that I mean, I got wet to my calves but no higher, and I kept my shoes to myself.

The shoes were a conversation starter too because as I went over a stile somewhere or other someone behind said, “are those the Graphene Mudclaws?” and we struck up a conversation and stayed talking more or less for the rest of the route, finishing together. Nice to meet you Nick.

I had a couple of weak moments where I looked at how many miles had gone by and how many miles there were to go. At one point Nick tried the “there’s only a park run to go” and I responded as I usually do to this, with, “but I don’t want to do a park run.” I passed a family of walkers, with youngsters, and tried to distract myself by asking the sister and then the brother whether they were going to be fell runners. The sister said nothing and ran up to her brother for sanctuary. The brother said, “no.”

Right.

Another example of my conversational skills: I am very grateful to marshals who stand out in all weathers, and I too have marshalled in all weathers. I try to convey my compassion by saying, “I hope you’re warm enough.” For the first time, when I reached this man on top of his knoll, the conversation went like this:

Me: I hope you’re warm enough.

Him: No, I’m not.

Me: Oh.

*Runner pauses, desperately thinks what to say to make things better*

Me: There’s not a lot I can do about that. Sorry.

*Runner runs off, perfectly warm.*


The weather: the forecast had been for 10 degrees, not too much wind. But this was the proper tops. At registration, the air was biting, and FRB, as hardy as they come, was questioning his choice of bringing only a vest. I ran in a vest and long-sleeves and I was fine. Afterwards he said he was fine too, but he has more body hair than I do.

Something odd happened in the last few miles: I got better. I overtook people, including Aileen (this rarely happens). And I still felt good, and my legs still moved by themselves.

The final mile is particular. You run along a beck, along a conduit, and then reach the Stairs of Hell. I hadn’t had to climb these last year because I’d got lost way before then. And in 2017 it was pouring so hard all the way round, the stairs were a relief from the weather, no matter how steep they were. (They’re actually steps not stairs but by the time you are halfway up you won’t be thinking about vocabulary except the swearing kind.) They are definitely steep, but they passed soon enough. And I knew that what was to come would feel harder even though it wasn’t, because there were two fields to get up on exhausted legs, before the finish field. Heavy legs and grass: it’s funny how many race organisers end their races with that sapping combination. But the inexplicable strength continued, and I ran where before I would have walked, and then there we were at the finish field, and I’d had such a nice time that I didn’t even mind seeing all the dozens and dozens of people quicker than me who were already strolling back to their cars. But I put on as best a downhill sprint as I could, and encouraged Nick to do the same. Later, some friends said, “we were urging you to beat that man you were running behind”. But I didn’t need to: because he’d been very good company, and because he had arrived too late to register so he was running as a ghost and it didn’t matter whether I beat him or not.

I got to the finish, my lucky 13 was cut off me, there was Neil looking fresh though chilly (he’d finished with a superb 15-minute PB in 2 hours 35 minutes so he’d been there long enough to be on his third flapjack). I didn’t know what time I’d done until later, but when I did I nearly fell over although I was sitting down. 3 hours and ten minutes. That is, 24 minutes quicker than I’d done in 2017.

Twenty-four minutes!

My fellow Run Braver Louise had got a PB of 25 minutes, and Izzy had had a storming run on her first attempt. The moral is: structured run coaching is very good for you.

I don’t think I ran faster. I think I ran more. Everything that was runnable, I ran. I ran more of the inclines where before I would have walked. I remembered to think about my form and technique and when I did remember, to make adjustments to make things easier: to remember to move my arms when I’m tired, to lift my knees when my legs are knackered, to hold myself high on hills and use shorter strides.

It worked. I had a wonderful time. It is a fabulous race route with beautiful scenery, and afterwards they give you flapjack and more food. I’m very proud of myself and conclude that I should now only run races that are blessed by vicars. See, coach, I do have tactics, of sorts.

Wadsworth Trog 2019

The Wadsworth Trog is a 19-mile category BL (hilly and long) fell race over Wadsworth Moor near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire. It is known for its energy-sapping boggy and muddy terrain. The only thing sapping my energy on this occasion was the snow covering the frozen ground, with the occasional surprise foot-in-bog.

Most people start the year with the intentions of making a fresh start. Upon reflection 2018 was the most successful running year ever, over 2280km (+62000m elevation) compared to 2017’s 1466km (+29000m elevation). For some reason, rather than feeling ultra-pumped for another year of mileage I found coming into 2019 a rather daunting affair. So much so that I pretty much relapsed from the off with plenty of high mileage in terms of drinking and eating but very low running mileage and very little interest in going outside.

I guess it’s hard to explain but this lack of belief and diluted fitness turned into quite lacklustre performances in both PECO cross country races I took part in, followed by a slightly disappointing Stanbury Splash, a race I had been looking forward to for two years. I guess it’s easy to blame the cold spell, the weather or whatever, but in any other race I would have embraced everything that was put in front of me, I just wasn’t really enjoying my running.

This may come to a shock to a few people as on the surface I’m generally a positive and sociable chap who generally won’t shut up.

Looking back, if January was there to serve one purpose that would have been to be to set the bar low, the absolute lowest. I was determined to take it as the stand-out worst month of the coming year, I couldn’t let it get worse than that.

Being invited to take part in the Wadsworth Trog after being on the waiting list was a huge relief for me. Judging by the popularity of that weekend’s three local sold-out races (the other two were Rombald Stride and Mickleden Straddle) I’m guessing this “get the hell out of January with a tough race” attitude is the same for many other people.

So here we are, on the second day of February. On Friday night I’m packed up and tucked away ready for an early drive over to the Happy Valley. Punxsutawney Phil must have predicted an early spring, the weather is absolutely amazing. Despite being around freezing I can feel the heat of the sun through the car window and the sky is blue and almost cloudless.

So we’re two happy campers driving over for the 10:30am start, except, well it’s a 10am start and the runners are lined up and ready to go as my co-pilot Jonathan of Kirkstall Harriers and I are waltzing into the cricket club getting our kit out for inspection and registration. Note: I swear I checked the website and saw 10am the previous evening, but considering I was the only one, that may have not happened! Not only that but I soon discover I am lacking a pair of waterproof trousers. That’s my first ever kit check fail. (To be clear as soon as I found out that I was missing kit I knew I wasn’t racing, no arguing: Dom can you have a look in the back of your car please?)

Jonathan is all ready to go and runs over to the start as the runners are setting off whilst I’ve pretty much given up the idea of racing and I’m thinking now I have time to go to the toilet and will go for a little jaunt. On my way back from the toilet the race director hands me a race number saying that one of the tail runners has a spare pair on him. How awesome is that?

So I set off, it’s 10:15 and I have a 6-minute handicap, I’m following the footprints of the 186 runners in front of me. How many can I overtake? That is the new goal for the day. Up the first hill around 2km is where I first see the pack, black dots on a white canvas, the tops look like a big white cake; it is such a nice day, and at a few points in the race I wish I’d brought sunglasses.

Another excellent thing about this race and its marshals is that when I catch the tail runners who are unmarking the course ahead of me, they have clearly been informed, and before I know it, the trousers are in my pack. As slick as an Olympic relay. Race on, I’m legal!

I hit the first steep descent which is where I catch the rest of the field, not the ideal situation but I carefully (and politely) overtake the back group of around five runners. Soon after the trails become narrow so pretty much all the overtaking can only be done at opportune moments, usually requiring me to go off piste in the six-inch-deep sapping snow.

The first 10km goes by and all is good. I have had problems with my hips and hamstrings recently due to transitioning from heel strike to forefoot style, but the constant buzz from overtaking the field is driving me at this point. So much so that an hour and a half has flown by and I had more or less found my place in the field with the first instance of being overtaken at around the halfway mark, oops, I have been overdoing it!

Once I find my feet the field around me starts to see-saw, some people overtaking me on the uphill, then slowing on the downs and vice versa and at one point a large group of us get lost after checkpoint 11 and have to heather-hop back on course. At this point I slow a hell of a lot and my left hamstring isn’t feeling too good, I think it’s gone and I am reduced to hobbling.

The thought of having to walk the final 5k of a fell race in freezing conditions doesn’t sound appealing, and the irony of having to put on the emergency trousers enters my mind. No, this is only a bit of pain, I can carry on, maybe I’ll do a big stretch later, come on!

Fast forward to the final few kilometres and I’m back in the game, not sure what happened there, and after a few near falls on treacherous trail I finally take a fall, on the road. A two-metre power slide followed by a lovely cramp in my left calf bites me hard, I let out a ridiculous scream that startles a couple of nearby runners.

“You OK?”

 “Yes I’m fine, keep going, sorry I’m a very vocal runner.”My fuelling strategy for this race was to use Tailwind power/water mix with a single Torq Bakewell-tart-flavoured gel halfway. It was my first time using Tailwind and through the entire race I felt pretty good, and it was only really muscle fatigue that slowed me down towards the end. I think using this in longer distance runs is preferable to gels, though in very long trail/ultra-distance real food will always win. Jelly babies count too, and thank you to the marshal who left the Jellybaby box out, it was well received!

Speaking of tail wind, I feel like I have one on the final climb, I am still able to run up that last hill overtaking a few chaps before entering the cricket ground for the victory lap. Maybe that burst came from was knowing I was close, although the marshal who told me we had a mile to go should be punished, it was at least two! 

Official time 3 hours and 55 minutes, 118th place. Had I been on time I’d have done 3 hours 48 minutes, that would have got me in the top 100. There’s always next year.

I’m absolutely knackered and so relieved to have completed the course. I feel like this event really helped me exercise those January daemons and I am so thankful to the organisers and volunteers for making it happen.

—Adam Nodwell

—all images by Woodentops

Marmot Dark Mountains

Lake District Eastern Fells. 26/27 Jan 2019. 

Having done numerous mountain marathons and a lot of night running, when I was asked if I wanted to join my MM buddy Toby on this adventure I thought it seemed a great opportunity to combine the two. The fact that I hadn’t done any long distance stuff for over a year and would have only four months to prepare for it didn’t seem a problem at the time. The problem is four months goes very quickly and I definitely hadn’t covered enough miles or hills but hey ho let’s give it a go.

There are various routes, Linear where you follow a fixed series of checkpoints (46k 38k, 34k and 28k) and Open Score over 8,10 or 12 hours where you choose which check points you visit where the aim is collecting points. We were doing the Short Open Score at 8 hours. Registration started at 5pm, our start time was 10:24pm so we didn’t arrive til nearly 8pm by which time the elites and Long Score (12 hour ) had already set off. As we arrived, it started raining!

The registration tent was filled with lots of runners clad in a wide range of very technical gear, all of it designed to cope with some very serious weather. We were clearly in for a treat! We all had to carry full kit — including tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, spare clothes, cooker, pot — so rucksacks all looked pretty full. The weather forecast was for more rain (snow on the tops) which would clear up at around 2am with plummeting temperatures and rising winds. This was pretty accurate as it turned out. 

Tea was provided and consumed then we got ourselves ready and presented ourselves to registration and kit check. This done, it was a matter of waiting for the off. We met Cat and Alison, who doing the C course, who arrived later as their start time was about 10.45pm.

At the appointed time we dibbed at the start, collected our maps and set off. The aim on an Open Score is to have an idea of how the whole round will look from the start. You have to have an eye on getting back in time but be flexible enough to take advantage of opportunities you find on the way. Coming in late costs points, and if you are more than 30 minutes late you generally lose them all so planning a fast route back picking up easy checkpoints happens at the start. 

Nav in the dark is all a matter of practice, good map reading and trusting your compass. We found only on our third checkpoint that depressions lined with gorse make quite good positions, not necessarily to ‘hide’ a control but to make it difficult to see unless you are almost on top of it so our route trace is a bit circular at this point. From then on it was pretty good and bar one, easy enough to find all the controls we visited. It was all about pace and running where we could and choosing the routes with least climbing and most running. Unfortunately hills are part of the event and unavoidable. The rain stopped for longer and longer periods. Our waterproofs did as much to keep the sweat in as keep the rain out so we were just as wet and began to get cold in the increasing exposure as we climbed.

I found at about 2:30am I was beginning to flag. This was now into overtime as far as my training had gone. I tried to eat but found it increasingly difficult. A half pork pie from Toby and drinks from steams helped but I was getting slower. Going up steep hills became a serious effort. The top of Loadpot hill in snow and high winds is not the place to decide you’ve had enough and want a rest. The water in our water bottles was freezing even with electrolyte tabs in so we had no choice but to press on. Toby was very accommodating and did most of the navigating from this point with a few comments and suggestions from me. However a handful of jelly babies, water and a caffeine tablet boosted me and being on familiar ground made it easier. We sped up and picked up several more checkpoints finishing much more strongly than might have been anticipated 3 hours earlier. The skies had cleared, the stars were sharp and the moon bright but waning. It turned out that 5am was a wonderful time to be out in the hills. 

Checkpoint on Loadpot Hill in the snow and gale. Image by Andy Jackson (who slept up there in a tent looking after the radio repeater station: top man!)

Tired but satisfied. We had tried our best given my lack of preparation, and we came in with 13 minutes to spare, with 380 points and having covered 21-22 miles. We ended up winning the Vet competition and coming 4th overall. We bypassed one checkpoint by about 100m but Toby thought that more climbing probably wasn’t the best for me at the time we pushed on downhill. Had we got that we would have come 2nd. The winners though were much further ahead and we wouldn’t have caught them. Fourth is a good place and winning the Vets was great.

Then: breakfast, a damp kip in the car for an hour, prize-giving and the long drive home to a hot bath and the blessings of sleep! As for Cat and Allison, we didn’t see them at the end. We later discovered that half way round Allison had a simple fall but managed to dislocate her patella and rupture her tendon and had to be rescued by the events team. Cat spent the morning in hospital with her where they are likely to operate tomorrow. [Update: surgery went well]. Well done to Cat for her first aid and helping rescue Alison and we all hope that Alison makes a speedy recovery. This is a great event and well organised and if anyone is up for some adventure I would heartily recommend this.

Results here.

—Mike Ayers

Hebden 15/22

Saturday 19th January 2019

This running and/or walking event was previously organised by the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association), and is now run by the Halifax Sea Scouts (as Cat commented, Halifax couldn’t be further from the sea but apparently they do lots of water activities).

I am not a regular of events starting near enough in the dark (8am) but my attendance this time was made possible with a welcome lift. I’d only entered the 15 miler, Cat and Alison were doing the full 22 miles. (You can decide to do 22 once you get to 15 or opt to do 15 if not up for the 22: a very generous concept.)

The event starts in Mytholmroyd, takes in part of Hardcastle Craggs and skirts Blackshaw Head & Stoodley Pike. There are a few strenuous climbs, a mix of terrain & 4 checkpoints on route (on the 15), with a mile or so on road near Hardcastle Crags and at the of the 15-mile route, but not the 22. The event prides itself on the refreshments offered, during and after exertions. Someone had complained of no cake at checkpoint 3 (after 3.5 miles). It must have been a walker.

I was very glad I had recced as the route wasn’t marked and at Stoodley Pike there was very poor visibility and snow. Fortunately I had others to tag on to before they carried on to do the 22 mile route. I would definitely do the Hebden again if training for a longer race but the event fills up quickly, the entries open in August and are full within a week or two, so it’s one for the diary.

I had forgotten what off-road long distance (for me) is like, it’s been nearly two years since I completed a race this long. I recognized that just-about-moving feeling when totally spent. All in all it was an enjoyable, well-organised event with lots of post-race food and a Scouts waiter service.

Well done to Cat and Alison for going the whole 22 miles!


—Kate Bell

Results here.  

A winter round-up

Simonside Cairns, Totley Two Turtle Doves and the Soreen Stanbury Splash.

So 2018 has rushed past, as every year seems to. The highs of countless days running in the Lake District and the lows of injury troubles seem long behind.

After my foray into Northumberland for the Hexhamshire Hobble at the start of December, I rushed back the week after for the Simonside Cairns race. I guess I had just reminded me of how much I miss the place. Rothbury, where the race is held, is also the town where I spent many Wednesday evenings training Cumberland Westmorland Wrestling in the school hall, practicing our hipes, hanks, cross-buttocks and inside heels. We were always chatting on with the parents of the younger kids, relaying their progress and offering encouragement:  each younger generation being the key to the survival of this small traditional sport.

Despite these frequent visits, I’d never actually gone up Simonside. There’s great rock climbing up there as well as the walking and running trails but I’d never made it for one reason or another.

The day was proper bluebird. Clear skies and a crisp winter air that almost had a crunch to it. The low winter sun cast a warming orange light, even through the midday hours. The purple bracken complimenting the burnt umber of the earth. If I’m honest, I only made these observations so clearly because I spent most of the race staring at the ground in front of me, as I doggedly plodded along.

I’ve time enough for a couple laps up the street to warm the legs before it’s down to the alleyway for the start. Packed into our tight corridor, we are read our rights and the race is off. A quick burn takes you out of the town and up the hill onto the moor. No chance for let-up even on the rolling moors as the pace is fast. I buzz past a cheery local belting out Christmas songs on a harmonica, a moment of levity to break the monotony of exertion. Quick feet are needed to keep you from losing a shoe into the mud. It’s pretty boggy in places and the wooden platforms are slicker than ice. After almost decking myself in a cartoon-like manner, I opt to avoid the platforms. This works well until I land thigh-deep in ice-cold bog. The platforms are there for a reason, I guess. Nipping through the forest, I’m greeted mid-run by the greatest sight of all, a checkpoint with Jelly Babies. The sugary infant forms take away any malice from my bog encounter and then it’s up to Simonside. The views are fantastic. The slight ridgeline from Simonside to Dove Crag wanders down in front of you is a line that’s just asking to be run along. And with this great scene comes evidence of a more populated and well-trodden route. Nothing out of hand, but enough to need stone laid on the path to prevent erosion. A stone-laden descent always brings a bit of a grimace to my face, and I opt for spongy mud and moss every time where possible, but I manage to nip a few places ahead anyway. My feet are skipping down at a high tempo, like I’m playing some extreme form of hopscotch. One wrong foot and it’ll be an expensive trip to the dentist! After regaining the path that we had taken up from town, it’s a case of emptying the tank and trying not to explode. This goes well, until I reach a junction and my brain stops working entirely. I have absolutely no memory of where to go. Fortunately someone less useless is just behind and we’re back on track. Down the road, over the bridge, try and not throw up at the finish. An absolute cracker.

Back at the pub it’s bustling with happy runners clutching their cups of soup (with many compliments to the chef!). I nip outside and catch my old wrestling coach Jason. He’s a tall and proud Northumbrian, a champion wrestler at several weights and his massive hand engulfs mine as he thrusts it out to say hello. I can’t help but smile ear to ear: it’s good to see him. We pop up the road to a quieter pub to have a catch up. He fills me in on the details of local goings on – some grave but many not – we have a proper loud laugh at some of the dafter wrestling memories and speculate on the future of the sport. “Three pints and some chips” is probably not the optimal post-race meal, but I left the pub full up of everything: the scenery, the running, seeing an old friend. I’m a bit of an emotional sod, but some days are just good for the soul.

After Simonside, festive chaos seems to engulf life and everything around it,  like some shitty, tinsel laden black hole. Days fly by, activity drops but calorific consumption skyrockets, and before I know it, Boxing Day has arrived, I’ve put on half a stone, turned 30 and I’m smashing it down the motorway, trying to make it to Totley on time for the race. My partner drops me off as I run into the cricket grounds to try and register. Fortunately for me, plenty of others are still on festive time so I’m far from the last to sign up. I even spot a club-mate, Sharon Williams, after expecting to be the only blue stripe [ed: surely you mean “sash”] representing NLFR. There’s even time for a couple quick warm-up laps of the cricket field. I feel quite good, which bizarrely is a bad sign. Good legs can only get worse, while bad ones can only get better. This holds true, and after a pointlessly enthusiastic starting lap of the field, everything goes to shite. Head pounding, legs unresponsive and will to continue wavering. The race is only five miles, so my strategy was always going to be to go out as hard as you can and just try to hang on. I’m definitely going as hard as I can, I’m almost hanging on, but I’m just not really going anywhere. Those mince pies and festive indulgences come at a price, and I’m not going to be able to settle the bill today. Hyperbole aside, it’s a great little course over woodland trail, with a couple decent climbs to keep you working. Once we’re over the top, it’s a stomp back down, gaining some track and then onto the road. The tarmac trying to jiggle free last night’s Christmas Dinner. Fortunately for all involved, I manage to prevent any gastronomical reemergences, and I rag myself round a final lap of the cricket field to the finish. Any performance-based grievance is instantly washed from my memory as I try and huff as much oxygen back into my blood as possible. There isn’t a better way to spend your 30th I reckon.

New Years came and went. More festivities, more indulgences. January begins and life starts to normalise again. The scales inform me of the incurred cost of my debauchery: over half a stone this time. Not that I needed the scales to tell me, my squidgy midsection had done that already. Either way, all debts must be paid in full. New Year’s resolutions never really made sense to me, but this year my dietary digressions have me reconsidering their benefits. Strict no alcohol rules are dropped on the household. Remaining Christmas chocolates are cast deep into the cupboard. I’m even cutting down on my bread habit (not the easiest task for someone who works as a baker).


Now all that’s left is to actually do some bloody running, and what better way to start the year’s racing than with the Soreen Stanbury Splash. Guaranteed to chastise you for your holiday sloth and gluttony, the local winter classic is a must. Count me in.

The day arrives, and so does the weather (does it ever leave Penistone Hill?). (Ed—no.)

Sideways rain and wind gusting to 50mph wipe the smile off my face. The decision to get out of bed seems so unwise. Even just running up to registration seems like a battle, the winds letting their presence known straight away. Packed into the tiny cricket club hut are countless kids wrapped in cagoules, on the hunt for their hard earned goody-bags, senior runners eyeing each other up, trying to figure out if we’re actually about to do this. Alas, the form is filled out, cash handed over and number received. The contract is made. Nothing left to do now other than a nip to the most weather exposed porta-loo I’ve ever been in. I’m filled with nightmarish thoughts of the thing being blown over with me in it which kindly hasten my ablutions. Business completed, it’s off to the start. There’s a steep and very muddy slope which people are heading down towards the quarry where the race begins. The couple in front are trying to hang onto the grassier verges to avoid slipping. None of that nonsense for me. Straight down, run it out, no problem, all in good style, until the faceplant into the muddy puddle at the bottom, of course. With this fantastic opening gambit, I join the huddle of runners hiding from the wind and realise I’m also one of about only four runners who opted for vest only. It’s just going to be one of those days.

The briefing is brief, and off we go! Someone in front goes down instantly. I manage to avoid them but I’m swept past before I can see if they regain their feet before the trampling herd does their worst. I’d definitely better pay attention I think.

After the first burst out of the quarry, it’s a romp up some hard track, before you’re posted down the field into your first splash. The people in front are a touch hesitant, allowing me a big leap ahead, almost acquiring my second faceplant of the day. The wind across my face is cold enough to make it droop numbly on one side, I’m lucky to have dodged the cameras I reckon. Along to the second “splash” of the race and I manage to leap the gap (much to the astonishment of both myself and the bloke beside me). Grabbing handfuls of heather, I quickly propel myself up the short scramble out of the ravine and back into the wind. I’m not the slightest of builds – something that I often curse at on steep climbs – but with the wind blowing as it was, I was actually quite glad for my heft planting me to the ground for once. The same wind that we’ve been struggling against is suddenly whipped behind us as we make the turn at half way. My cold legs actually struggle to keep pace with this rapid extra propulsion, although it’s a very enjoyable problem to have! Romping down the track and road feels bloody great. The weather might be crap, but it’s fun in its own way and everything’s better with the wind into your back.

Dodging into the grassy field where the first river crossing is, I notice I have nil grip in my trail shoes on the trodden path, I try to pull wide onto fresher ground to keep upright, but the slope quickly steepens, there’s nothing for it but to commit and kick my legs out and launch into the best bum-slide of my career thus far. Highlight of the race to be honest. After that, the final mile practically feels like a sprint, and I’m into the tea queue at the hut before I know it. The tiny shelter is packed with the smiling faces of runners as giddy as myself. To think I almost stayed in bed!

—Andrew Sandercock

The Packhorse’s Blinders, or a very long-winded Tour of Pendle report.

Standing in the queue for some post race replenishment, I’d asked Bill what his next race would be. “Tour of Pendle in November, last AL of the season”.

Never heard of it.

“How is it?”

“Oh, it’s great!”, he informs me with his usual wide-eyed enthusiasm. An enthusiasm faultlessly unencumbered by the prospect of long and arduous races, I should add. He is Lancastrian after all.

16 and a bit miles, 4800 feet, in November, on the windiest hill in England, four weeks after my first race post-injury. It’ll be fine. Then I remember, I haven’t done a long category race since June. It’ll be fine-ish.

Unable to find out much about the origin of the race, I’ve concluded that the route was devised by dropping spaghetti on a map, and the most offensive strands were selected to give the grandest day out possible. That, or some devious cartographer went to work figuring out how to get an AL out of a hill that’s 2 miles wide and 1800ft tall. Either way, the result is a criss-crossing tour that seduces you with 10 easy miles, before smashing you to bits by throwing the majority of the ascent at you over four miles, and then making you sprint it home on tarmac for a mile. Saucy.

The night before, I follow my Team Sky-esque pre-race protocol: one large pizza, chicken wings and a big packet of Maltesers, followed by sorting my kit out two hours after I should have gone to bed. Dave Brailsford would be proud. I sleep terribly, rise reluctantly, throw some coffee at my face and grumble through a bowl of muesli. This is what Peak Performance™ looks like, I’m sure. Fortunately the transcendent effects of the coffee kick in and I’m happily on my way to Barley before I know it.

My morning drudgery aside, the day is off to a good start. The weather is fair – a particularly positive omen with previous years’ races being hit with every weather type imaginable – and I squeezed my Astra into a spot so tight Guinness World Records might come a-knocking (I’m tempted to attach a picture because it’s that much of a bobby dazzler).

[Ed—happy to oblige]

 

Number and t-shirt collected, map purchased from Pete Bland and there’s nowt left to do but plod up and down the road a few times to remind my legs they’re on duty today.

The giant mass of runners pile down the lane to the start, and without a moment to stagnate the heads in front start to bob up and down as the wave of commencement drifts towards us. There are a lot of people running this race! I have to admit I feel awful, the realization striking me of what lies ahead, everything a bit off kilter, my stomach carved hollow. Too late now, anyway. It’s a pretty standard schlep up Pendle Hill to start which helps draw attention away from my intestinal quandaries.

[Ed—”pretty standard if you mean full clag”?]

 

 

The trig is passed, and the dreamy 4.5 mile descent towards CP2 begins. Keeping it steady, I’m passed by Bill, a decent indicator that my pace is correct, as he knows what he’s doing, I don’t! “See you at the finish!,” I laugh and off into the distance he goes. Down to CP2 then past the reservoir and up the next climb. It’s a narrow path so you’re tightly slotted into your running order. Trying to make up places here will be a clear waste of energy (or a good excuse to slow your pace, depending on your pedigree). Sadly the climb doesn’t give a great return on its investment, the ground drops away steeply, presenting the aptly named “Geronimo” descent. Running in my comfortable trail shoes, the wet grass isn’t offering much purchase and I find myself working my legs hard to keep in control. Too hard in fact. So I decide to match my decline in altitude with a decline in dignity. Setting free my inner seven year old, I pick the grassiest line and bum-slide my way down. I’ve heard that if it’s stupid but it works, it can’t be that stupid. I’m not sure anyone’s buying it though.

 

I still feel pretty capable, if a little wobbly, as CP5 approaches. I’m on schedule, hitting the 10 mile mark under two hours. That gives me an hour and a half for the remaining 6.5, at around 15 minutes a mile. This is also the last chance to do any maths, before the arriving climbs siphon all the oxygen out of my blood, rendering me into some kind of Neanderthal and thus stripping me of my already limited numerical capabilities.

The turn from CP5 heads straight for the climb via a dip over the stream. Your cover from Pendle’s ever-present winds is whipped away and the steepness robs me of my pace. The powerful gusts try and liberate me from my race cap, as I tighten it, pulling it over my brow. The peak is acting as a pair of blinkers for this tired old packhorse. Ignore the other runners and trudge away, I think to myself. Tiny steps but keep the cadence. It feels stupid taking these teeny steps, but for the first time ever, I’m actually taking places while going uphill. It definitely helps that my stout build grounds me with a greater wind resistance than my whippet-limbed compatriots. The caffeinated energy gel swilling around my guts is threatening revolt but the call to arms seems to be rousing a second wind. Feeling pretty burst, I console myself with the reminder that there’s only two climbs left.

The descent offers little respite as the steepness demands that the legs work hard to keep me on track. I try and relax my body to stop it stealing precious energy for the approaching ascent. The penultimate climb starts and by some miracle of sports nutrition, the viscous devil I squirted down is doing wonders. But still, the plod, plod, plod begrudgingly goes on. Then a stroke of good luck: the rasping sound of tired breath and howling wind is broken by a Lancastrian accent so thick you could spread it on toast. The unmistakable tones belong to Bill, who’s only a few places ahead. Seeing a friend in a long race is worth way more for performance than any gelatinous nutrition packet. So I power on, trying to catch up. But much like those dreams where you’re stuck to the floor, limbs refusing to cooperate, I just can’t quite bridge the gap. The chase continues over the top and back down.

Another sapping descent delivers us to the foot of the final uncompromising climb. And the best really is saved until last. The trodless hillside offers no line of weakness, just a steep aspect, uneven footing and guaranteed discomfort. It’s a bloody great way to finish a race, I must reluctantly admit. My body has now diminished from Neanderthal to horse to some kind of amoebic puddle. The single file of runners disperse into a loose scattering on the hillside, each runner in their own battle against the elevation. I laugh to myself at how daft this must look, droves of knackered looking runners cresting the hill like some kind of lycra-clad zombie apocalypse.

 

Up and over, nothing left now but to empty the tank and to try and avoid premature disintegration. I’m back with Bill as we hit the tarmac. The harsh feedback from the solid ground underfoot shakes through me and lets me know the end is nigh – both the finish line and my ability to walk. Only 8 minutes of this and you’ll be done. Grit your teeth and put it down. My quads want to explode. My guts are shriveling. But my pace is good and I’ve made some good distance on Bill, I think. Round the final corner, finish in sight. Then out of bloody nowhere a Lancastrian bullet comes flying with a sprint finish to make Usain Bolt proud. My floppy legs give it my best but the man in black and white has kept his ace in the back pocket and thrown it on the table just in time.

Cheeky sod.

—Andrew Sandercock

 

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