3.6 miles, 591 feet
Lothersdale has all the makings of a great mid-week fell race. It’s short and steep, costs £3, and you get a bottle of beer, a feat which not only seems to defy the laws of economics but also firmly hoists the flag of virtues that I associate with good races (cheap, no frills, fun and booze). It is held on the Wednesday after the Yorkshire Three Peaks race, so I was under no illusion of hoping for a decent performance, but the sun was out, and the small village hall was bustling with runners. The standard plod up and down the road to shake some life into my legs was met with quite some resistance from my being, but the promise of a short course pushed any concerns away. It’ll be over before it’s even begun, I foolishly convinced myself. Chatting at the start line, I offered the advice I was given from a friend regarding races under 5 miles “Go as hard as you can, and try not to blow up.” That strategy was about to sabotage me a few minutes later.
The race set off up the steep and narrow path and my legs almost instantly shit themselves. I’m very aware that’s not really physiologically possible, but I can’t bring to mind a better way to describe it. My chipper enthusiasm was replaced with dread. Not real dread, like the feeling on a Sunday before the return to school, when booking a dentist appointment, or checking your bank balance after an exuberant night on the piss, but more like the kind of dread when someone unsheathes a bottle of vulgar and exotic spirit when you’re casually drinking cans. It’s dread with a wink and a chip-toothed smile, one that provokes fear with a dash of intrigue. Everything felt wobbly, my legs had gone to jelly, my lungs were puffing harder than the Flying Scotsman, and I seemed to be moving no quicker than a mobility scooter with a flat battery in a swamp. The quick pass through the fields and up a track then pulled down, to my dismay, onto a downhill concrete path. The hard ground and downward trajectory had me praying to the Gods of Quad to keep my useless pins from folding under me. I always thought it’d be some giant leap over boulders in the rain that would gift me my first downhill clatter, but this little concrete track in the Parish of Craven had other ideas. I rambled my way down, miraculously avoiding full body contact with the deck and regain the upward path. The gradient was frustratingly runnable and offered no excuse for breaking into a walk and any hope of momentary respite. The disparity between perceived effort and tangible output was laughable, like revving a car to the red-line but leaving it in first gear. I’m sure my exhaust gasses weren’t too dissimilar either.
The summit and its turnaround was reached and wobbled through. My legs were joined by pretty much every other part of my body in the customer services queue to complain to the manager, as I thumped my way down on the solid flagstones. The brief descent on the way out was back again to cause discomfort on the way back up it. Again, the course was too short to justify walking and this tiny stretch jeered at me to falter, and only with oxygen starved exasperation was the tiny mound crested. The final 200m is steep downhill as you’re funneled into the finishing straight, gripped with fear as small children pop out to encourage you, worried that a wrongly placed stride may land you with some difficult explaining to a parent as to why their little darling is now a lot flatter than they used to be. Thankfully the finish line was crossed without issue and I was able to crumple into a heap without any steamrollered children on my conscience.
Safe to say, I don’t think I’ll find a better way to spend £3.