I have been training for marshalling for a few years now; standing around and staring into the distance is something I am particularly good at. I can also clap and say “well done” a lot. Marshalling duties started with meeting the ‘Kettlewell Anniversary Advanced Party’ (Mike A, Dave M, Ice Cream and Flap Jack) in the afternoon so that so we could flag the course. Given the amount of tape we used we were preparing for visibility of about 10m: it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. Mike also used ducks on makeshift posts, because…well, because he is Mike and to be honest this seems to be one of the less strange things that goes on in his head (see ‘sharks’ later). Also, when I say we flagged the whole route, what I mean by that is, Dave M, Mike A and I set off up to the top of the hill, they carried on down the hill on the other side, whereas I went across the top of the hill and started flagging the (what I hoped was the correct) course for the final descent (I think we are building up a picture of why I like marshalling and not ‘racing’). The Kettlewell Anniversary Advanced Party, minus the ice cream and flapjacks, reconvened near the farm on the hill overlooking the field that seemed to have all the local moors allocation of sheep in. Turns out this was true; however, they were all to be released from the field prior to the race starting. We flagged the rest of the course together and returned to race HQ. By this point Adam, Richard F, Rose, Neil, Dom and many other people, had arrived and were setting up registration. After standing around and watching other people work, and about 30 minutes before the race started, I headed back off up the hill with the other marshals. Incidentally, the Scottish (midges) had started their invasion of England: specifically, the lowlands of Kettlewell.
Most of us walked up the hill together, repeatedly asking how Will broke his neck, and admiring his dedication to the course (come on, a pun is a pun, no matter how serious the bone-breakage is). There were some keenos though, the Checkpoint 2 crew, one of which was Helen, who ran to their marshalling post on the far side of the hill. It is this kind of ‘swottiness’ though that won her and her teammate the women’s pairs category at an orienteering event…which definitely existed alongside the male categories (it didn’t), and this isn’t a political statement (it is), and I am most definitely not digressing (I am). Incidentally, Dom was meant to go to checkpoint 2 as well with Helen & Co, but he had already used up his allocated injury-free month for this year, so instead he organised us from the midge zone.
As we headed up, the cloud-base was starting to lower; all that red tape may come in handy after all. People were ‘dropped off’ at their marshalling (in some cases, midge food) posts as we walked by; first to go was Sharon and her dog. I didn’t see her after the race but assume she wasn’t eaten alive. Then Arran, Will, me, and finally Ian arrived at ours. Leaving Will was devastating as he had a chocolate orange, and he was happy to share it. Once in position, we all realised that we had set off way to early and wondered around in small circles until our first runners come through. I knew when they were about to come past Ian as I could hear him prevent any short cuts by asking the runners to “go around the finger post and the turn right”. This, and one marshal’s booming clapping (the equivalent of Brian Blessed talking), was the soundtrack for the next hour or so.
Watching the first runners is always impressive, they always look like they are putting limited effort in, just bobbing along in the hills. Except there are two running along with sharks (Sarah McCormack and Joe Baxter); they took these off Dave M just after the hill in an exchange for tasty headache material. The rest of the runners came through and for the most part everyone looked happy, even the guy who had rolled his ankle and had a limp. Heading up the very back of the field, doing the equally great job of sweeping, where you run, but you are not allowed to overtake are Amanda S and Neil W. Once they go by, we can all go down the hill and get a pint. We see Richard F, Adam N and Mike A completely covered in future bites. This does not bode well for the pub. Indeed, Smidge failed us, with the Scots winning the battle after our pathetic, futile attempt at trying to sit it out for just one pint. I momentarily dream of the gin I could have won if I wasn’t me and could race men carrying sharks. I remember there is gin at home. I find Mark, who is excited to have done his first fell race, and we go home.
I think I have dragged this “we went up the hill, stood, cheered, pointed and came back down the hill” story for long enough now, thanks for reading.
I once ran a 20K race in India, when Delhi was in the middle of a heatwave. A heatwave in the UK is high 20s to 30C. In Delhi it was 50C. So the race started at 5am, and even then it was stunningly hot. I survived though I can’t quite remember how. I do remember the camel though, and the pleasure of running with a bunch of Indian strangers who became Strava friends.
I don’t quite know how I managed Ingleborough Mountain Race last weekend, either. It’s a summer gala race, and I always love those, especially when the gala field contains at least one source of ice-cream. But I wilt in heat, apparently a physiological inevitability: your body tries desperately to cool itself by shifting blood away from the core to the skin, and making you sweat more. Essentially, working out in heat is twice as hard as it should be. Give me 6C and overcast and I’m happy. Compared to how I feel about running in blazing sunshine, I’d be happy in a Tour of Pendle blizzard, or a hailstorm on Whernside.
Did I mention that the race starts at 3pm?
I have form with this race, too. The last time I ran it, the weather included a big lump of dense clag over the summit. Although it’s an out and back, I managed to get lost by drifting over the footpath on the way back down, then quickly losing the sound of voices. I added about a mile to the route, and was only guided back to the route by Neil, who was spectating, trying to tell me which way to go. One memorable instruction: “Do you see the sun? Follow that.”
There was little chance of me getting lost today but I was nervous. I’d done an easy 5 miles in shady woodland a couple of days earlier and felt heavy-legged and totally lacking in energy. I actually looked up the symptoms of heat exhaustion because you never know.
The race is organized by Settle Harriers. Until race day, they were still requiring full kit, but at registration there were signs saying the kit was waterproof top and hat only. Nothing about a compass or whistle but no way was I setting off without mine. There was another sign warning of HEAT EXHAUSTION.
We were set off in five waves, each five minutes apart, once we’d found the start, which wasn’t where we expected (we knew it wasn’t in the gala field but at the foot of the moor, but we still had to do a big loop to find it). I suspect they put the start where it was to replicate the steep climb of the usual route, because it did. We set off and by the time we reached the road I thought, oh dear. Further, up and over the moor to meet the track and I’d already walked a bit. That was going to be my strategy anyway to get up the mountain: walk 10 seconds, run 20. I mostly stuck with that though the proportion reversed the higher I got.
In the first mile, I thought seriously about dropping out. I felt awful and overheated and I’d only just started. But I had a word with myself and trudged onwards.
Neil had alerted me to a good grassy trod that I could take instead of the rocky footpath, and amazingly I remembered it. I was drinking but still didn’t even finish one 500ml flask, which was nowhere near enough. But I drank as much as I wanted on the way up and on the way down there was no chance.
I am more used to arriving at Ingleborough from the Three Peaks route side, and as the last time I’d done this race I couldn’t actually see the mountain, I wasn’t prepared for how many bloody false summits there are. After the third, I went all John McEnroe. You can’t be serious. By now I’d been passed by lots of people from the fifth wave, including Ruth from North Leeds, who made up the other half of our club representation. I could have been demoralised by all this passing, but I was too hot to care. Who the hell runs up a mountain in a heatwave, for fun?
I passed Pat Wardle on the way up, who was supporting his wife Laura. He wasn’t racing, probably because he finished a Bob Graham Round recently, but he still ran up the mountain. He got this nice pic of Neil which ended up on BBC Breakfast News, after Neil responded to a request for images of what people had done in the heatwave. He was the only one running up a mountain, oddly. Pat thought he’d photographed everyone he knew but he forgot about me. I got one of Laura though, who later said she didn’t even remember me taking it, she was in heat delerium.
Finally I reached the summit, and was instructed to loop around a marshal rather than the trig, as the trig was busy.
Neil had also suggested I come down to the left, down some steep grass shelves, and I remembered that too. I love descending and after a year of knee troubles, I think I’m getting my descending glee back, and I took places, though this was probably irrelevant as they were probably from the wave behind. A bit more rocky footpath, then I remembered the grass trod again, and followed a Settle Harriers woman along it. I managed not to fall, and even managed a sprint of sorts on the road down to the finish. Had I been more alert, I’d have noticed how many people were crashed out, but I needed water and more water: to drink and to pour over my head. I joined Neil, and my mates Marion and Louise in some precious shade provided by the van belonging to the Cave Rescue folks, one of whom came over to check we were OK.
It turns out there was a lovely leafy path back to Ingleton that we’d missed on the way up, and this lovely leafy path led directly to an ice-cream shop. I didn’t win anything, finishing in 1:27, though I inevitably got a PB by simply not getting lost. But it definitely felt victorious to have a vanilla cone in my hand.
After having a year off official racing, the time had finally arrived to make my legs burn. The last time I ran Kettlewell Anniversary Fell Race was pre-Covid in 2019. I don’t have the fondest of memories of it. They were mainly “oh dear, this hill is longer than I thought” and “I’ve totally overcooked it”. This was probably my fault as I had never been to the valley before and not realised how many false summits the first climb had. This time around I was ready and prepped for the pain. I had nicely warmed up the racing legs two days earlier with the NLFR summer solstice race around Burley Moor.
On the drive over, the temperature dropped and the clag set in on the summits. This would make for very atmospheric running during the race. Due to Covid the race organisers had decided to set the runners of in staggered starts. The two minutes between each group would help with the congestion going through the Slit, a narrow passage through rocks. Waiting in our pens my nerves began to build and the butterflies flapped in my stomach. Adam and Mike started the countdown. 3, 2, 1, GO! We were off, charging up the first climb, jostling to get into a good position before the Slit. There were lots of strong runners in the first pen who seemed to simply fly off up the hill and I soon lost sight of them.
As in all races I slotted into a small pack of runners around my speed. We began to play leapfrog with each other as we slowly chugged up the hill. The summit finally came after 12 hard minutes of fighting off the lactic acid. The descent couldn’t have come soon enough, but sadly it was over too quick. As I reached the bottom I caught up with Dave. He had been waiting at the top of the first climb with the inflatable sharks for the king and queen of the hill. A weird but fun tradition for Kettlewell Anniversary FR. [Ed’s note: the first woman and first man to reach the shark-holder get to carry a shark each for the rest of the race. Obviously.]
The beauty of running next to a chatty guy like Dave is that he gives you a hell of a lot of loud encouragement. His loud whooping and cheering definitely helped as I began the second climb.
This is where my previous battle on the course came into my favour. I had known to save enough beans in my legs to break away from my pack and I gradually started to reel in the next group. I browed the final top and began the fast grassy downhill. Due to the mist, the grass was very slippery and I slid over a couple times when trying to cut the corners. On one of my slips I ended up kicking a thistle and got a few spikes in my big toe. No time to stop and sort that out when you’re racing to the finish.
Last time, I was overtaken by a runner 200 yards from the finish. But this time, I got my redemption and pipped one last runner [Ed’s note: and Ollie also held off champion mountain runner Sarah McCormack: see photo]. A final sprint and I was over the line. What a rush, 40 minutes of pain but totally worth it.
As soon as I’d finished the leg pain stopped but another pain began, midges. Bloody midges. I hate midges. They were everywhere, swarming over the runners as they finished. I swiftly changed into my longs and with a buff high over my face and my hood up, I just about kept them at bay.
Mega thanks to Mike, Dom, Richard, Adam and all the rest of the NLFR team who put the race together and marshalled. It was another brilliant evening. Looking forward to next year.
In 2019 as I approached the next decade I decided it was time to do something a little different. Most people, I guess, would not choose to run 54 miles across the South Downs Way, but I did. I entered the Race to the King, so named because it ends “on the steps of Winchester Cathedral, one of the most historically significant buildings in Britain and claimed burial ground of twelve English kings, making it England’s first-ever Royal Mausoleum.” I was accepted, the date was set for June 20th 2020, at which point I would be a Vet60.
I started training started in November 2019 but it was to be short-lived. A family bereavement in January 2020 then a pandemic had its impact, the race was cancelled until 2021 (a small mercy given my lack of training). I deferred my place to 2021 and sat back as though I had all the time in the world. After all, how hard can this be?!
Fast-forward to January 2021. Despite the pandemic still rampaging around the world I had to assume this would go ahead. So I got out the training plans I’d found earlier again. I must have been alert at the time as re-reading them I could not understand why none of them went beyond 30 miles as a longest run. I have 54 to do, so could I really leave 24 miles as uncharted territory? I think not.
I contacted a coach, Neil Wallace of Run Brave. A number of our club members (including me) have used Run Brave’s weekly structured training sessions to improve our running over the last couple of years. Many of us have gone on to have PBs and seriously improve. But the ultra required more. I signed up for a bespoke training plan with coaching support (Neil would regularly check in and discuss my progress). My objective? “Just get me round.” With this vagueness, he began to develop my training plan: a series of four to five week blocks.
The first one rolled in. A five-week schedule with a longest run of 19 miles. Great! I’ve got this. Once that was done, the second plan arrived then the third. In March I had planned to run the Lulworth Cove marathon, but this was cancelled. Undeterred I decided to do the same distance on the beautiful Yorkshire moors. With advice from Neil, I decided a route that was twice around Simons Seat, clockwise then anti-clockwise. It was great to complete 28 miles and with the support of running friends I made it.
More training blocks arrived. The longest run was 45 miles. Yikes, I no longer have this. Four weeks before the event, I had a complete meltdown on my longest run, with only 38 miles done. The wrestle with emotions and fatigue took its toll. Was I going backwards? I settled with the fact my meltdown happened before the event rather than during.
Friday 18th June. I checked my pack severaltimes, then some more, then tried to rest. On Saturday 19th June at 5 am I was in my hotel room wondering what the hell I was doing. Can I do this? I arrived at the start about 7 am and as they were letting us go in 5-second waves I just decided now or never so off I went. Strangely it was very emotional.
As the miles ticked down I had my coach in my ear. “What are the three things you are good at?” I could only remember one: pacing. Think about the tortoise and the hare. Other runners en route were really nice and chatty but on a couple of occasions I felt I was being pulled faster than my pace so I dropped back. After 10 miles I reached pit stop 1. Feeling good. Take on liquid and eat. Go.
I continued through pit stops 2, 3 and 4 still feeling good. At 31 miles I was greeted by [my partner] Julie and Jelly the Jack Russell just before Butser Hill. More local southern runners feared this hill and talked about it for the 10 miles before it. I looked at it and thought nah! we have much bigger. But after 31 miles it somehow seemed a lot more daunting.
I conquered the hill and pushed on. At 46 miles I still felt ok. At the final pit stop 7 miles from the finish I was determined to get in before darkness fell. My quads were turning to concrete.
A young man had reached his limit and told me he could not make it. “Oh yes you will,” I told him. “We’ll finish together.” Off we trotted (it was more of a shuffle) to the finish where family was waiting, encouraging each other along the way.
I did it and it felt amazing that I actually finished in the same day I’d started. I spent the following day walking like the tin man from Wizard of Oz but it was worth it.
Would I do it again? Yes.
Did I learn anything?
Don’t go into this lightly.
Enlist the help of a coach, there are lots of plans online but they don’t talk to you or support you. Neil’s continued support and encouragement was so worth it. I can’t thank him enough.
Plan your run and run your plan. Don’t get dragged along by others. Pacing is SO important.
Nutella sandwiches are the food of gods and my chosen nutrition.
It was HARD. The investment of time, long, lonely, unsupported (carry own food/water) hours running, the fatigue. The need to go out and train whatever the conditions, from freezing wind, rain and ice to very hot humid days. But I loved every minute of the race, even the painful ones towards the end.
Stats for the day:
Weather cool and overcast (excellent)
Time: 11hrs 33 mins
Category: First V60 [WHOOP WHOOP editor’s comment]
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs on toast
Number of Nutella sandwiches consumed: 8. And a Kit Kat and a bag of plain crisps.
We are excited to be welcoming you all to Kettlewell on Thursday.
Please take a few minutes to familiarise yourself with the pre-race briefing before arriving. We’ll all need to adapt out usual routine slightly to ensure the COVID measures are adhered to so these events can continue to be run.
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 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.
I took for granted the freedom that I was privileged to have during my childhood and growing up in the 1960s and 70s: those endless days exploring the vast woodland of Meanwood Valley with friends and siblings. We named rocks, had picnics in the thickets of Scotland Woods, dared each other to walk across the unfenced aqueduct of Adel Woods, waded with fishing nets in the beck, swam, paddled, swung on rope swings above muddy waters and sledged down the slope above the swings.
We trudged home when hunger registered or clothes were too soggy after we’d fallen in the streams. I attended the primary school next to the park so sports and nature walks were spent in the greenery of the parkland.
Time did the inevitable thing of passing by and I embarked on a new hobby during my teenage years: running. This was a time when running fashion was a pair of flat pumps and shiny nylon shorts that flapped at the sides with the slightest of breezes. I found myself again playing up and down Meanwood Valley, running over ancient rocks and roots of the same protected trees, re-carving out the paths of my early childhood.
However, Meanwood Valley took on a sleeping historic form, a forgotten gem, because I had discovered the Yorkshire Dales and mighty mountains of the Lake District. I enjoyed the challenges of racing and spent weekends making up new runs, again taking for granted outstanding beauty in another form.
That was up until March 2020 when suddenly society was forced into a most unnatural prison sentence. For me, lockdown seemed necessary yet on a personal level an impossibility. My allocated slot of daily exercise allowance became my saving grace. As I live in the vicinity of Meanwood Valley, it was inevitable that my running routes of yesteryear became, once again, my playground. The spring sun simmered through newly budding trees, the flow of the water sparkled, radiating hope during this horrific pandemic. Watching the seasons change and trails turning from arid dust to mud, snow and ice, I continued embracing what I had on my doorstep.
I re-discovered trails with routes from old forgotten nooks and crannies, reminiscing about fond childhood hiding places. My runs were a joy. They put on hold my missing of the Yorkshire Dales. I made new friends: shy nods became sincere greetings. I became adept at the Covid shuffle of avoidance. It was a pleasure noticing women walking alone in the dense woodland without fear in their eyes and enthusiastic children playing as I did all those years ago.
My valley runs were indeed my lockdown anti-depressant. The changing seasons have been a splendour. I have never been more thankful and will forever appreciate what I have at my immediate disposal: a paradise for the hobby I began way over forty years ago……and fairies still dance under the trees.
Last year was one everyone will be very eager to forget, but for me there was one silver lining: finally joining a club.
I’m relatively new to fell running, and probably haven’t earned enough stripes to call myself a fell runner yet as most of the running I’d done prior to 2020 was on the road. After a few marathons and one pretty flat ultra I found that the most exciting parts of those races were the tricky, technical sections where I’d have to concentrate on the placement of my feet rather than just putting one foot in front of the other. This new found love of off-road running led me to take on a few Lakeland Trail races which I think are such a great entry point for anyone who is sick of running on tarmac.
Having enjoyed those, I looked for events closer to Leeds. I enjoyed the brief window of races that actually went ahead at the start of 2020 : High Cup Nick on 27th February and the Ikley Moor fell race on 3rd March. Both were awesome!
I remember standing alone at the Ilkley Moor race start point (having arrived way too early) without a hat, in pretty rainy miserable conditions, looking over at some NLFR-vest-wearing runners and thinking firstly would they lend me a hat, but also that at least I wouldn’t be stood on my tod before races if I was part of a club. So after some nudging and encouragement from my girlfriend I joined NLFR, and it’s hands down the best thing I did last year.
I had the same worries so many starters seem to have… Am I fit enough? …Will I be stranded in the middle of nowhere when everybody else speeds off? But it turns out I had absolutely nothing to worry about.
So my message to all those wannabe Leeds fell runners reading this post is come and give it a shot! The sessions are often split into different groups based on speed, so there’s usually a group of similarly paced pals to keep you company. I find myself in the weird place between the fast and the slower group but there’s no egos here and the super fast runners always wait to make sure everyone has caught up.
The fell runners I’ve met through the club are all like-minded, friendly people who love the fells, the mud and a well-earned beer after a run. Unfortunately I’ve joined NLFR at the worst time to take advantage of the post run beers but the club has still given me new routes, new friends and definitely kept the lockdown legs away.