Tag: Fells (Page 1 of 2)

Paddy Buckley Round 10-11 June 2023


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


Leg 1: Pont Aberglaslyn to Capel Curig

Clock time: 08:03 to 15:39

Cumulative time: 7 hours and 36 minutes

Pacers: John and Dave

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

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

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

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


Leg 2 Capel Curig to Llyn Ogwen

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

Cumulative time: 12 hours and 3 minutes  

Pacers: Adam and Ian

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

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

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


Leg 3 Llyn Ogwen to Llanberis

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

Cumulative time: 17 hours and 52 minutes

Pacer: Matt

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

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

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


Leg 4 Llanberis to Pont Cae’r Gors

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

Cumulative time: 23 hours and 59 minutes

Pacer: Matt

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

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


Leg 5 Pont Cae’r Gors to Pont Aberglaslyn

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

Cumulative time: 29 hours 24 minutes to complete

Pacer: Matt

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Hirons

Spine Challenger 2023


The Spine Challenger is a 108-mile ultramarathon along the Pennine way in the glorious month of January. It starts in Edale in Derbyshire and finishes in Hawes in North Yorkshire. It is a self-sufficient race with only one official aid station in Hebden Bridge at 48 miles.


I bloody love shit weather and the exhilaration of being out in conditions when part of your mind is thinking “I’m not sure this is safe”. I have also wanted to do an event which I am not sure I can finish. The Spine seemed like a good way to satisfy both these itches.

What with?

The mandatory kit list for the Spine is a lengthy affair (25 pages!). New highlights to note this year included a poop shovel and poo bags, two pieces of kit I took great joy in demonstrating the function of to my wife Helen.

The full kit list can be seen here:

In order to travel light you can be looking at a black hole of money where shaving grams off here and there gets increasingly more expensive. Fortunately, I had accrued quite a lot of kit in many a fastpacking trip so it wasn’t too terrible.

My Kit

Montane trailblazer LT 30L

Sea to Summit Spark II sleeping bag

Thermarest NeoAir sleeping mat

Mountain Warehouse bivvy bag

MSR Pocket Rocket Stove

Garmin 64s (GPS unit)

Rab Arc Eco Waterproof Jacket

Montane Minimus waterproof trousers + over mitts

Montane Prism Insulated mid layer

Montane Dry Line Pertex Shield insulated mitts

Head UltraFit Running Gloves

Inov-8 Roclite shoes

Injinji toe liner socks

SealSkin Waterproof socks.


Running around a lot with all the kit.

I had told myself that on paper that I was probably fit enough to cover the distance. But what I wasn’t sure about was whether I would have the mental fortitude to do so when shit got real at 5am in a blizzard.

I figured that I needed to ensure I was able to keep myself

1) Fed

2) Warm

3) Relatively dry

4) Caffeinated.

If I was could do all that then I should be able to keep my mind from going to those dark places where I don’t think I would possess the mental resilience to keep going.

So a lot of my training was based around making sure I knew how I was going to do the following:

Access food on the run without taking my pack off. This would be very important in cold weather as I realised on a night recce between Hebden and Gargrave in the snow and -4* where my body temperature plummeted as soon as I stopped and as a result avoided doing so and so I stopped eating. I bought a new pack, the Montane Trailblazer LT 30 which has two huge mesh side pockets where I kept pretty much all my food in for the race so it was easy to access it all on the move and therefore be able to keep stuffing my face silly. The trick I have found with eating a lot over a long distance is variety. So I had cheese and pickle bagels, vegetarian sausage rolls, date and nut bars, jelly babies and the king of running food; the mighty Bounty bar. Now I’ll tell you why a Bounty is the best, have you ever tried to eat a Mars bar or a Snickers that’s been kept at 2 degrees for 6 hours? It turns into ROCK. But the glorious Bounty keeps soft and delicate even at low temperatures. I also found some vegetarian bean “chorizo” in Waitrose that I highly recommend, it had that salty fatty goodness that sometimes you just crave at the business end of a race or just when you’re feeling a bit sad. I also had a couple of dehydrated meals as a last resort backup.

Stay warm.

I tend to get very warm when I run, particularly my trunk. But my hands can get quite cold. So during training I tried out different types of glove systems. I went with a quite a thick but tight running glove. Then I had a waterproof shell mitt (Montane Minimus) which packed down very small and that I kept in the front pocket of my jacket so I could whip these out as soon as it looked like it was about to rain. I also had a more insulated waterproof pair of mittens which I had the option of wearing by themselves or over my running gloves. Or if shit really hit the fan I could wear all three! 

Stay dry (ish)

I wasn’t too worried about the wet from the outside but rather the wet from the inside. I‘d spoken to a number of people who had DNF’d the Spine and a theme that came up often was temperature regulation and the danger of overheating and sweating through your inner layers. This can cause problems if you suddenly gain altitude and or it gets dark, cold and windy. Then, your damp inner layers can suddenly become dangerous and cause hypothermia. I know I run warm so I practiced running in just a base layer and my waterproof shell and using the big arm zip vents and modifying gloves and headwear to control my temperature rather than wear more inner layers. This seemed to work in training and I found it helped to pre-empt temperature changes such as taking off gloves/hats before heading up a hill rather than half way up once I’d started to sweat. I did have options of a thin microfibre fleece (a basic Trespass number) in my pack but I also had a synthetic insulating mid layer if things got rather chilly.

Stay caffeinated

Being a caffeine addict I have realised that it is very important to keep a steady stream of caffeine in your system to stave off those bad thoughts. I remember when I first started running longer distances I would really start to struggle perhaps 6-8 hours into a run until I had the epiphany that on a normal day I would have had three coffees within that time. I now carry an little re-purposed spice jar in which I place some espresso strong enough to wake the dead, to chug at the point that I’m feeling a bit naff.

I hoped that if I nailed the above issues then I could keep in a good enough headspace that I could keep putting one foot in front of the other without having any major tantrums.


Game Plan

  • Spend the first 70 miles looking after myself and take it easy.
  • As per preparation stay warm, dry and eat to the point of nausea and keep yourself there.
  • At 70-ish miles look at the tracking and then perhaps think about racing (if that’s even possible at 70 miles?).


The Big Day

Wet. Dark. 6 degrees. 7am.  Minimal sleep the night before because I was like a kid the night before Christmas, too excited to sleep. And we were off to some brief applause before all the supporters sensibly ran back to their cars to go back to bed.

Normally ultras are very social affairs and there is a lot of chat and banter but heavy rain forced everyone’s hoods up and eyes to the floor so it was a bit of an anti-climax if I’m honest.

What do you mean, Type A?

We trudged over the fields at the bottom of the Edale valley as the dawn broke. I was concentrating on not getting over-excited and steaming into first climb up Jacob’s Ladder to Kinder Scout where we met a stark reality check which was the 50 mph westerly which tore into us as we reached the Kinder plateau.

Even If I wanted to talk to anyone around me they wouldn’t have been able to hear me as the wind was overwhelming. The first 10 miles were just head down and grinding out the steps, trying to stay roughly moving in a straight line. The only highlight was Kinder downfall which had turned into an upfall, a water up, or water climb, whatever the opposite of a waterfall is, it was blowing straight back up the hill like a geyser.

Snake Pass was where I saw my lovely crew for the first time. This was my mum and dad who had driven up from Devon and my wife Helen who was only there because I had booked a fancy room at a pub at both the start and the finish and sold the idea to her as a “lovely holiday”. The look on her face as the wind and rain was tearing her piece of  A4 paper with “Go Alex” written on it to shreds spoke volumes about how much she regretted agreeing to this.

Side note: the Spine is an “unsupported event” so I was not allowed to take any assistance from Helen or my parents unless it was given to every runner in the race. My mum took this as an opportunity to hug and kiss every single participant who went past much to her amusement.

Next came the climb to Bleaklow Head during which I spoke to a German fellow named Roland who comes over to England regularly to partake in long arduous bleak races such as the Spine and Hardmoors events. Apparently there is little to no ultra or trail running scene in Germany. I was also sad to hear that he DNF’d later in the race. We had a lot of fun failing to keep our feet dry navigating the path-cum-river that led up Bleaklow.

See ya

Fortunately, as we dropped towards Torside reservoir the rain lifted and I started being able to see more than 20 meters ahead of me and could lift my hood. The views, the wind in my hair and having my peripheral vision back felt excellent and I hared down the descent to the reservoir leaving the group I had been running with. This gave me some time to pet the pigs at the farm at the bottom of the hill which lifted my spirits even further. I was now 15 miles in and feeling good, eating well and moving nicely.

Back up the other side, halfway towards the top of Black Hill where I encountered a man pushing a drop-bar hybrid bike down the footpath, a good two miles from the nearest cycle-able path. He met my amused and inquisitive questions with a stormy face and a grump. I still wonder how on earth he got that bike up there in the first place.

I caught up a jolly fellow named Dan who told me how he enjoyed not running with poles then proceeded to eat his words as the path crossed a river no less than 10 times within half a klick. My poles offered me a nice vault over the water but Dan had to make do with a wade, a splash and a dunk. We found a good stride together and we ended up spending the next 22 hours with each other. A real 0-100 relationship.

The cloud lifted high enough on the top of Black Hill to give us a cracking view of the West Riding from the ‘fax to Emley Moor tower and even Ferry bridge power station in the distance.  I bloody love this bit of Yorkshire.

The beauty was short-lived as we made our way past Wessenden Head Reservoir where we got a dose of hail to the face. It seemed to be directly in our faces no matter which direction we were running in! Fortunately, the sporadic hail flurries were short-lived at least so I didn’t have to fish out the clear goggles from my pack (another mandatory piece of kit). I now fully understood why we had to carry them. I could not have tolerated face hail for much longer without them.

I bonded with my new companion Dan over our shared experience at Leeds Uni. He also took his degree as a vocation and went from English into theatre and now is a freelance playwright and producer. With Boff Whalley, he has written and performed a show called “The Hills are Ours”, about running and land ownership.Likely right up a lot of your streets, NLFR.

Daniel (L) and our P&B mate Boff (R)

Dusk started approaching as we made our way up Standage . Miraculously the sun made a distant appearance on the horizon casting an ethereal glow over the valleys that dropped down the western slopes of the Pennines. The majesty of this seemed an antidote to the murky silhouette of the skyline of Manchester in the distance. It was breath-taking.

It was refreshing not having my phone to hand to ruin the moment by trying to take a picture as it was buried deep in my bag and had been off the entire day.

As the sun went down I felt the inevitable creep of fatigue, but fortunately we quickly happened upon Nicky’s food bar. This consists of an unassuming shipping container/lorry cafe placed on a muddy truck stop next to the M62 whose owner opened for 48 hours straight to supply the Spiners with much-needed nourishment. One large burger, a Fanta lemon and a coffee later I felt bloody marvellous. My experience there was only slightly tainted by the American gentleman who has his bare foot on the table and was aggressively sanding his soles and applying copious talc with a little foot brush.

The next section is flattish and quite runnable along the side of the reservoirs and towards Stoodley Pike. However a belly-full of burger made the running part of this slightly challenging. We seemed to get every kind of weather along this section. Hail, rain, snow and lightning all in rather wild but brief episodes as the wind whipped away the weather as quickly as it arrived. Approaching Stoodley Pike we were rewarded with our own personal firework display from a house in the valley in Todmorden. It was a unique experience witnessing fireworks from above.

A easy descent into Hebden Bridge then up and over into the Calder Valley then over again into Hardcastle Crags and Hebden Hey Scout camp, our first and only checkpoint. I was feeling OK at this point considering we had covered 48 miles. I had been enjoying the experience of moving without the stress of thinking of it as a race and the time seemed to be flying.

As soon as we entered the checkpoint I was taken to a seat, I was swarmed by volunteers who helped me out of my soaking wet shoes and put them next to the fire. I placed my watch on charge and headed to get double helpings of lentil pie with a side of crisps and malt loaf. After eating way too much I was shepherded back to my belongings for some faffing, getting dry socks and base layer on from my drop bag and filling up on food and drink. The staff at the checkpoint were remarkable and each person was waited upon as if they were a professional athlete.

Despite the 20 minutes of rest and a good meal I couldn’t get back into a rhythm when we started back again. I felt quite rough and very bloated. The next two hours up to Top Withens I felt tired, crap and I couldn’t even think about eating. I was a bit worried and I started wondering how on earth I was going to finish the next 50 miles feeling like I did. Dan kept up the stream of encouraging words which helped drag my ass up the hill.

I took my pack off at Top Withens to get at my medical pack to pop an anti-sickness tablet and out of nowhere I released a colossal fart and felt some immediate relief. More copious flatulence on the way down toward Haworth and I felt better and better. Thank Christ.

I suspect that the drastic physiological and environmental change between running in the zero degree temperatures to being sat still in a very hot room then back to freezing running had sent my digestive system into a state of shock and it has stopped functioning temporarily. The double helping of pie and three coffees had been sitting in my stomach unabsorbed for a whole two hours since the checkpoint until the downhill movement and gaseous release triggered it to be dumped into my small intestine. I was back in business.

The next 18 miles were in quite non-specific and undulating terrain and passed the towns of Ickornshaw and Lothersdale. We were very pleased to receive some cold rice pudding and some hot water for a dehydrated meal at Lothersdale courtesy of the tri club there. We were informed that the race leader had already made it to Malham tarn, 16 miles ahead of where we were at that point, which was staggering!

Slogging through the early hours we made it to Gargrave (68 miles) at about 4am. I felt Gargrave was a bit of a milestone in my head as I knew the following section really well. As I had promised myself I turned my phone on for the first time here and looked at the tracking. Dan and I were in 8th and 9th place which we were very pleased with. However 7th place was an hour and a half ahead of us which took any pressure off me to race as I felt that that was an unattainable gap to cover.

It’s that way, not that way

So we set off towards Malham and were quickly blindsided by some torrential rain and serious wind which we had not expected considering we weren’t too high up. This led to some miserable slogging through very wet muddy fields, eyes down on our GPS’s as the paths were barely visible. I could feel myself getting cold but there was no shelter from the weather where I could get another layer on. We started picking up the pace to keep warm but it was difficult getting through the mud while also trying to keep on the right route in the dark. I was getting worried that if we didn’t manage to get some shelter things were going to go south but fortunately we came across a wood as we dropped down towards the river. I managed to get my fleece on and went for triple glove power. Phew.

We found out later on that while we were battling that weather on Eshton Moor at 150m altitude, the race leader Rory Harris was tackling the same weather but on Pen-Y-Gent, and the weather was winning. The visibility was so bad that he was having to use his headtorch and a hand torch pointed directly downwards just to see the floor and his progress was so slow that he became dangerously hypothermic and spent 1.5 hours in Horton at the cavers’ volunteer rest stop just trying to warm up. Fortunately for him he had built up such a lead that he still won with a four hour cushion over second place.

The section along the river Aire toward Malham was wet. There was water literally everywhere. It wasn’t clear a lot of the time where the river ended and the flood plain begun. It was a slow wade. Climbing up towards Malham Tarn Dan had begun to slow a little and seemed to be struggling. I hadn’t noticed him eat in a while and he confessed he just couldn’t face eating anything. I wasn’t having any of that and got my emergency back-up calorie dump which was three soft flasks with 400kcal of Tailwind powder in each. I filled one up with water from the tarn run off and demanded he finished the lot. Which, hats off to him, he did! We made it to the Malham Tarn activity centre which was a “mini-checkpoint” and sat down for a cup of coffee. Surprisingly there was a runner in there who said he’d been there for about 20 minutes already. He looked very comfortable and didn’t look like he was going anywhere very quickly. He told me that 6th place had left the checkpoint only 10 minutes previously.

I was galvanised.

We had somehow made up an hour and a half to catch 7th place and 6th was only 10 minutes ahead.

But Dan had taken his shoes off and said he was going to need some time to collect himself before heading on. I felt conflicted because me and Dan had spent 22 hours together at this point. It had been such a team effort especially when I thought we were long behind everyone else. And we had said that we would finish this thing together. However, I was moving well and I now knew that 5th place wasn’t too far ahead and it was Rob Greenwood no less. I’d met Rob running in the Cheviot Goat race in 2021 and had passed him in the last section of the race. So the thought of doing that again was amusing. I decided I had to push on. I gave Dan all of my Tailwind and made him promise me he’d get to the finish.

I was off. The return of daylight, more coffee and 6th place in my sights and I felt better than I had in 12 hours! The snow up Fountains Fell made it slow going and it wasn’t until halfway up that my sleep-deprived brain remembered that I had Yak-traks in my bag. They made an impressive difference, now I wasn’t sliding back with each step and my progress improved. I even found the energy to run down the back of Fountains Fell into the valley.

Seeing Helen and her parents on the Silverdale road waiting to support me brought a tear to my eye and they weren’t able to escape a muddy and snotty hug.

This gave me another boost and I managed to catch 6th place on the ascent to Pen-Y -Gent, but wait, there wasn’t just one runner but three! 4,5 and 6th! Bagged three in one! What a result. They weren’t moving very well and said they had been death marching since Gargrave. It was certainly nice to see Rob and tease him for being caught by me for the second time.

I left them on the way down towards Horton as the cloud was clearing and a sun was coming out. It was turning out to be a beautiful day. The descent to Horton is long and was tough on tired legs and carrying a backpack. I had started paying for the flurry of “speed” or should I say effort (as it wasn’t objectively speedy) from Malham tarn to this point. I hobbled into the Cave Club rest stop in Horton and was lovingly offered soup and coffee which felt bloody marvellous.

My watch had run out of battery on the way down from Horton but in my head I had about 11/12 miles left. I was very upset to hear the news that it was 14! The three chaps I had passed on Pen-Y-Gent trudged into the rest stop. One of the guys, Sam, sat down next to me with what I can only describe as a 1000 yard stare. Helen, bless her, attempted to be helpful by offering to change the batteries in my GPS and somehow managed to dislodge the memory card so for the rest of the race it was rendered useless.

The sun was shining and the views making my way out of Horton were very motivating. I decided to use some music to keep the pace up and some thumping techno was doing the trick. Unfortunately, despite moving well, I got lost in my techno daydream and managed to follow the Three Peaks route instead of the Pennine way route when they diverged. Clearly on autopilot. Frustratingly it took me over half a mile to realise. I used some choice words for myself that I should not put down in writing when trudging back to the Pennine Way. This mile detour decimated my fragile motivation and the next section up to Cam High Road was a slog.

I had spied a runner catching me but after my navigational embarrassment I just didn’t have the drive to push any harder. This drive lessened further when I realised it was my friend Rob catching me. I decided I needed some company to boost my morale.

With 6 miles to go at the top of Cam High Road Rob and I decided to run the last section together. We felt that a joint 4th and a comfortable finish was a far better outcome than a miserable race down to the finish and a possible fifth. For any dot watchers that were witnessing me and Rob passing each other as we “raced” down into Hawes I’m sorry to inform you that we trudged down dragging each other’s sorry bodies and no racing was even thought of.

We came into Hawes about 30 minutes before sunset. Ideal. I put on a brave race and even attempted a “run” along the high-street to the finish.

32 hours 14 minutes and 54 seconds.

Joint 4th

Out of 96 starters, 46 finished

I was done.

4 pints and two meals later and I was swaying in my seat at the pub and almost falling asleep in my sticky toffee pudding. I had managed to cheer Dan in to his finish. He had taken a bit of time at Malham, got some food in him and had finished well.

But now it was time to sleep.

What followed was one of the worst night’s sleeps I’ve ever had. I could not regulate my body temperature. It felt like I was simultaneously freezing and boiling. It was like when you have a fever. The sheets were soaking with cold sweat in the morning. I suspect that my body had got used to producing so much heat and warmth from movement over the past 32 hours that it had thrown my temperature regulation completely out of whack.

The next morning with a slightly clearer head I inspected my body for issues. Naturally the muscles in my legs ached deeply but I did not have any particular joint or ligament pain. My main problem which I had discovered when I had entered the shower the night before was significant butt chafe. This had only caused mild discomfort during the run but this changed when the hot water from the shower hit it, ouch. Helen was not best pleased when I asked her to take a picture to survey the damage.

I seemed to recover surprisingly well within a few days and feeling a bit cocky I joined Will, Mattia and Jonny on a trip to Snowdonia a few weeks later. I had 12 miles of feeling great then things started going wrong and by 18 miles I felt almost as bad as I did at the end of the Spine. It felt like I’d hit the wall despite eating copiously throughout the run. I think this was my central nervous system telling me I’m and idiot and I clearly had a long way to go. Back to rest.


Reflections a month later

It’s hard to sum up an experience such as I had at the Spine Challenger. I once heard someone describe a 100-mile race as “a lifetime in a day” and I think this sums it up perfectly. Never in just 32 hours have I experienced such extremes in emotion, seen such beauty, forged such fast friendships and pushed myself as far physically.

This race was also a lovely antidote to the ever more connected, fast-paced and stressful lifestyles we lead (or at least I seem to). It was a chance to disconnect and experience life in a more simple form: you eat, you drink and you put one foot in front of the other. I think this is part of the pull I feel towards the longer unsupported events.

Would I do something like this again? Absolutely.

Would I do the full Spine? Absolutely.

Just not for a while.

Alex “Sharpy” Sharp

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


Fell relays

I’ve had a pretty good year so far. I planned to train for, and then run a proper Lakes AL. From January to June I put the hours and miles in, culminating with the Ennerdale fell race at the start of June. My little training chart — compiled by a mystical computer algorithm — had a lovely upward trending squiggle. And I do love a bit of data-based reassurance. I was running well and completed my goal (albeit with a performance slightly dampened by a cold) so I promptly took a few weeks off.

My little squiggle took a downward turn, but with my desires sated, that wasn’t a concern. Training and rest must be balanced carefully if you want the scales of performance to tip in your favour, after all. But then Kentmere Horseshoe appeared on the horizon. It had been my first Lakes race the previous year and I was keen to see if I’d actually improved since then. It’s a cracking race; long and steep enough to put you to work, but not so serious as to scare you off.

A work stint in Carlisle gave me the perfect base for a bit of fitness rebuilding. I managed to make some quick hits on Scafell, Skiddaw, the Buttermere Sailbeck, and Striding Edge, to name a few, and my squiggle ascended accordingly. I was primed for Kentmere. The race brought some testing conditions, which resulted in countless route variations (or detours, depending on who you ask) but it was a fantastic day nonetheless. Placing further up the field than before, I was happy with my improvements and started to plan out the rest of the summer’s races.

I returned to my local training ground — the Otley Chevin — with great fervour, stomping up the track with great intention. Cresting the top of the climb with a newfound momentum, and pulling round the corner, my foot somehow didn’t quite land underneath me and with an horrific crunch I stumbled to the floor in a pile of curses and pain. The summer’s racing plan almost visibly evaporated before me.

A dog walker enquired if I needed assistance but I declined, either from denial or embarrassment, I’m still not sure which. I hobbled back down the track to the car. Surely it can’t be so bad if I can walk on it?
Once again the squiggle tumbles, this time for two months. Eight weeks of holidays, stag dos and weddings later, I’ve ridden that downward squiggle like a party rollercoaster. Kilograms gained, fitness lost. I might as well take up tiddlywinks.

And then up pops a little message from Dom.
“Can you run in the Fell Relays?”

Which brings me to the bit I actually meant to write about: The British Fell Relay Championships. They are organised by Ambleside AC and held in Grasmere, and NLFR fielded four teams, no mean feat for a small club. Shrouded in darkness, we piled onto the bus on a dreary Saturday morning. I was to be running the first leg, a hearty five mile romp with 2400ft of climb. I avoided looking at the route in advance, choosing to remain in blissful ignorance; I knew it was going to hurt and that was sufficient. Either good fortune or foresight had me on a fully flagged route, something I was definitely happy about upon our arrival at a very claggy Grasmere.

The marquee was absolutely buzzing with teams from all around the country getting down to their pre-race rituals. Reassuringly, everyone seemed to be juggling dibbers, numbers and maps, with expressions of less than total comprehension. This is the cottage sport of fell running not the Olympics, after all.

Soon enough the time rolls round to switch into race gear. I do the classic awkward shuffle into my shorts and vest, trying to use my hoody to shield my sliver of dignity. I head for a quick trot up the hill to get some blood back into my legs. They feel as rubbish as you’d expect after a few hours on a coach. It was a bit of a shock. Even walking the hill felt pretty hard going, and it’s only about 200m from the start. Not the greatest omen, but with the swirling fog and tense atmosphere, today wasn’t a day to let superstitious thoughts get the better of me. I trundled back down to the start with 20 minutes to go, launch prep commenced final ablutions, a quick scoosh of caffeine-charged energy gel, a swill of water, a kiss to my partner, and a saunter to the pen. The sight of a familiar face – Bill from Chorley – helped break the tension. We laughed at the ridiculousness of our nerves; it’s only a run up a hill anyway. I make the slight error of not jostling my way to the front, but before I had time to adjust position, we were off!


Races always set off fast, and so should you [really? —ed]. I don’t. Well, not fast enough anyway. The first steep climb was as unpleasant as expected but it turned into a speedy bit of track soon enough and the pace shot off. It felt great to be smashing along the winding path as it slowly gained in incline. Steady and fast for just over a mile, and I felt a touch regretful for not pushing harder for position at the start, now locked into the locomotion of runners snaking their way up the path, pace dictated by your allotment in line. This is what cross-country must feel like. The path steepened again, my heart was pounding and lungs pumping, but a cursory glance at my watch told me there was less than a mile to go. A mile to the top of the climb that is, the only marker that matters for a gravity-burdened plodder like myself.

Checkpoint one at Grisedale Hause passed, dibber sweatily fumbled into the reader, and steeply up to Sandal Seat we went. Now we were less than half a mile from the summit, but the angle and terrain were unquestionably fell rather than cross country now, my hands pumping down on my thighs (if I’ve got to lug these bloody arms up with me I might as well use them), sweat pouring from my face even in the cold, claggy air. The summit was crested with another clumsy thrust of my dibber into its target, and the sweet relief of a downward trajectory began.

The grass was slick in the wet, and the lack of pronounced tread on my shoes promptly makd this clear, traction being variable at best. Either way, I’m definitely a downer rather than an upper, so I threw myself into the descent with the regular reckless abandon. Arms wind-milling, I kicked my legs into long strides, as if I was trying to launch a football the full length of a pitch. I interspersed the long leaps with the occasional tap left or right, trying to keep the unwieldy vessel on its winding course. Questionable as the technique appears to be, I kept passing runners, so I continued, my body shaking and praying that my legs weren’t about to crumble. Even a minuscule miscalculation would send me Klinsmanning down the fell. That was brought clearly into focus when I passed a downed runner, head bandaged, surrounded by co-competitors who had come to his aid.

We rambled through the final checkpoint, and the surrounding runners and I all audibly groaned as we realised there was still some uphill left. Climbs — no matter how insignificant — always seem an order of magnitude worse when they’re near the end (a pertinent issue with The Tour of Pendle approaching). But with some heart-pounding stomps, we were up and over and on our way back along the fast track. The final steep descent, the same one that caused such concern at the start — continued to deliver, as I completely lost all grip, engaging in a full bum slide manoeuvre. Definitely not the Olympics. Still, back on my feet, and a final romp back through the starting field. Arms flailing as I dived into the pen, passing the invisible baton to my 2nd leg team-mates.

In my anoxic state, I clambered through the barrier, completely disorientated, and totally oblivious to the finishing pen and mandatory kit check to my left. It seems reasonable proof that I was trying hard at least, or that I’m an idiot, both plausible options. Redirected by the marshal, like a bouncer gently guiding an intoxicated patron, I emptied the contents of my race vest and thus validated my stint, with all the correct accessories, and we were done.

Back in warm and dry clothes, gleefully tucking into a polystyrene box full of chicken, rice and peas, I was very cheery man.

Over the day, the runners from the remaining legs returned, some jubilant, others glad to be passing the baton, sharing stories of the day’s trials and tribulations. A fantastic achievement by all, on a course with no easy legs, and conditions to match.

—Andrew Sandercock


“Do you fancy doing weets?”
“Do I fancy doing what?”
“It’s a race. Called Weets. A bit like a mini Tour of Pendle.”

Ah. That clinched it. Although I know this is perverse, I’m very fond of Tour of Pendle, maybe because I got a 25 minute minute PB on it last year on my birthday, or because I feel like a steely adventurer, Ernest Shackleton-like, when I remember the year before when I ran much of it through a snow blizzard. Even so, Weets should not have been an option: an hour’s drive to run just over five miles slightly skews the miles-effort scale that I usually operate under. (High Cup Nick is the one race that is immune to this scale.) So, up early on Saturday morning and over to The Other Side where the clubs are called Trawden and Barlick and have French in their names (Clayton-le-Moors) and they talk different. The weather forecast predicted heat, but I was chilly in the car and the sky looked overcast, so I was fooled. I didn’t apply suncream and I set off wearing a buff. Idiot. The race HQ was a small marquee in Letcliffe Park outside Barnoldswick (which I’ve only lately realised is where Barlick gets its name and that Barlick isn’t a place. To this, Jenny rightly said later, “there are some things you don’t admit to.”) The park is hidden off Manchester Road so that even when your sat nav tells you you’re there, you think you aren’t. Only the sight off to the right of juniors running up and down a hill made me realise I was in the right vicinity, and a phone call to already arrived folk got me into the ample car parking on the field in the park, which I’d never otherwise have found. See, navigation is always a necessary fell running skill.

£5 entry, which is just acceptable on the other well-known metric of fell-running, the Wallace-Buckley scale, a joint Scottish-Yorkshire effort devised by Jill Buckley and Neil Wallace, that dictates that no race should cost more than a pound per mile. This has the handy effect of ruling out most road races, so is very useful. There were more people there than I’d expected, but maybe everyone else was fond of Tour of Pendle too.

Up we go to the tarmac lane where the start is, and there is some milling. The NLFR team consisted of me and Jenny, so we had a collegiate photo with Neil, Karen and Gary from P&B where our vest sashes managed to almost perfectly reflect the race profile. (This might actually shut up the P&B comments about “your sash is going the wrong way” though probably not.)

Then from me, some dynamic stretching, also known as reminding my glutes they have work to do and not to leave everything to the hamstrings. I’ve just been diagnosed with hamstring tendinopathy, but this diagnosis, from the excellent Coach House Physio in Leeds, included the magic words:


So I did. Eck though it was hot. Muggy but powerful heat. The buff came off straight away and I was thankful that I had conformed to my usual policy of always running with water even when hardly anyone else did. Up we go, up the tarmac road, and I felt sluggish and heavy but kept going. (I’m a cold weather runner.) Lots of Barlick supporters, so many that I began to think my name was Nicola, as it was constantly shouted in my direction. (She was just behind me.) Up and up to the trig point on Weets Hill, where I was surprised to see runners coming back down, and they all seemed to be aged about 11. I cheered them on, of course, as they seemed to be winning the race, then later found out that a juniors’ race had set off with us but was just going to the trig and back. So they weren’t actually winning our race but theirs. But still, well done.

After the trig, a lovely descent, whoosh, which was so good I forgot that we’d be going up again. I’d checked the race profile and knew that there were four climbs and that we’d only done two. Still, whoosh. The next climb was definitely the mini-Pendle one. I’d drunk plenty by that point but still felt a bit drained, and even more so when I looked up and saw a hill with no end. So I did my usual technique of counting. I have an entente cordiale method of getting up hills: if they are really huge (Whernside, Clough Head), I count in French. Backwards. Having a tired brain figure out the right order for deux cents quatre vingts dix neuf gets you up about thirty feet. I can get up Whernside in 300 in French, but Clough Head was about quatre cents. For smaller hills I use English. One to ten, for as many times as it takes. It passes the time, your brain is distracted enough not to think of all the climb you haven’t yet done, and you keep moving.

There was another fine descent down a familiar grassy field (the route is an out and back with a loop, so classic lollipop), where I ran past a fellow, while exclaiming, “I like this bit!”. I took this out of the fell running handbook, chapter, Stating The Bleeding Obvious. Then up a tarmac lane, back over the fields, a bit of moorland trod running where I could feel blokes breathing closely behind me, but they didn’t ask to pass so I didn’t offer. I hadn’t recognised Eileen Woodhead on the way out as she had a big floppy hat on, but it’s hard to miss Dave as he usually yells something at me. On the way out it was “ROSE I DIDN’T RECOGNISE YOU WITH YOUR NEW VEST ON” (“new” meaning about a year old). On the way back it was “DON’T LET THOSE TRAWDEN LADS GET YOU.” I tried not to, putting on a sprint down the lane to the finish that impressed me and probably shocked my muscles into remembering when I used to be a sprinter 35 years ago.


One of the lads did pass me and the other one didn’t. I managed to put the brakes on in time, and there was the usual splendid fell running habit of people you finish around saying well done and you saying well done back. I deviated slightly from this by telling the Trawden “lad” (actually a six-foot 40ish fully grown man) not to tell Dave he’d beaten me. Then I downed several cups of squash and we went to a pub and I ate a veggie burger that was bigger than me and all was well.



Buckden Out Moor and Back Again

May 5, 2018 (AS)

I agree, this race sounds like a book by J.R.R Tolkein and in hindsight it could have been. It had rocky climbs, epic scenery and new discoveries were made as well as hairy feet exposed. AS stood for ‘Ard and Sunny: it was a tough, hot day at the office but very enjoyable and highly recommended for the calendar next year.

The race was advertised as 5.1m with 1549ft of ascent, starting off at the Yorkshire Dales car park in Bucken. The route took us out up Buckden Rake to the summit of the Pike then down the disused lead mine back into the car park. The race organiser stated it would test you on the up and the down and he was not wrong.

I entered this race with very little fitness, as I’m still trying to find it, but I was looking forward to getting back out and giving it a go. As the race was only in its second year it had a very small field, 38 to be exact, and based on the two schoolgirl errors I’d made when packing, I had resigned myself to being back marker or thereabouts. The other eight female entrants were like racing snakes or very young. Annie Roberts from Todmorden won the women’s race, got the course record and was 10th overall. More on the schoolgirl errors shortly!

Anyway, having chatted with the race organiser and other runners I’d discovered it was 2.5 miles up, 2.5 miles down, with some more climbing once at the top. This was not too far from the truth with a few up and downs following the long slog to the pike. The downs were quite steep in places with some narrow paths but generally made for some good descents, though they were quad trashers.

Schoolgirl error #1. I left contact lenses at home so to had to run in glasses – not good for vision, confidence on the rocks and scores zero on the cool sunglasses look.

School girl error#2. I forgot my sports bra. This was a major concern while getting ready in my tent at Street Head as I’m not the smallest person in the world. Anyway, the new discovery was that my Inov8 back pack can double up as a bra or at least strap me down sufficiently to be able to run.

New discoveries made: The above errors must not happen again and also, I learnt what a Mangold Wurzel is.

Jenny Cooper



High Cup Nick

I love this race. I will try to do it no matter what. One year I did it with jetlag. Another year I’d overcome some other obstacle. This year I decided to do it while recovering from the second cold virus I’d had in two weeks. Reasonably, a friend asked if it wouldn’t be more sensible to stay in the warmth and fully recover. Another person responded by sending me a link about the dangers of viral myocarditis and how it is causing many deaths amongst young people because people are mistaking it for flu. I took this into account. But I didn’t have flu. The cold had not gone into my chest, it was on its way out, and I needed a day of fresh air.

On race day, I woke up with a profoundly upset stomach. Oh dear. I made a banana and yogurt smoothie and hoped that would work. But it was the first day for a while I hadn’t woken up spluttering. Nor had I needed to take any paracetamol, for the first time in a week. So I decided to set off and see how I felt. The race is organized by Morgan Donnelly, a fine fell runner and a fine emailer: he’d sent out two race information emails on Thursday and Friday, advising about parking. Dufton, race HQ, is a small and beautiful village with a small and beautiful village green, and quite rightly the organizers didn’t want people to park on it. The second email included information on “cheeky farm-yards” which might provide parking space and ended with “sleep well,” which is how you can tell it was written by a runner. All race information emails should finish with “sleep well.”

A nearly 200 mile trip to run a 9 mile race. But I knew it would be worth it, if I ran. The weather forecast had been chilling: 40kph winds on the tops and a wind-chill of -6. I even packed long tights, though of course I ran in shorts. We got there in good time and got priority parking in a farmer’s field, though I wasn’t sure, given how the tyres were spinning on the mud on the way in, how we’d get out again. Registration was at the village hall as usual, where there was the customary huge spread of cakes. The race is sponsored by Inov-8, which means a good serving of elite runners: I spotted Ricky Lightfoot and Vic Wilkinson before the start, in-between toilet visits and going for a short run to check my legs still worked. There were six NLFR’s running, and I managed to spot half of them though we didn’t manage a proper team photo.

We gathered on the green, Morgan made some race announcement that where I was standing was entirely inaudible, then he yelled “GO” and we went.

I set off and hoped for the best. My best, apparently, was not great. I managed to run up the first incline but felt very weak. Last Sunday I’d done hill reps in Pudsey valley and I’d not walked once, and felt really good. Now I was looking at the inclines coming up and dreading them. I very nearly pulled out in the first mile and was only stopped by the fact that I have never had a DNF and I’m stubborn. Instead, I patted my ego on its head and put it in a box, and carried on. I walked when I felt like walking, and I didn’t worry too much. The day was glorious. I was in a t-shirt and long-sleeve and perfectly comfortable. Sunshine and no wind, as we ran up the tarmac, then turned into the boggy bits. I knew from running this before that stretches that seemed flat were actually going uphill. So I splashed through all the bogs I could, and enjoyed it. The sun was out, the day was fine, and I was moving at pace through a beautiful landscape. All was well.

The race route runs along several shoulders of several contours. On each shoulder, I expected to round it and see the valley of High Cup Nick, but it took several turns before I did. So, into the valley, through more bogs, through a beck which was in a timid state and only calf-high, then the long boggy stretch up to the Nick.

It looks so benign in that photo. Such nice soft grassy ground. It didn’t feel benign. It felt like it feels every year, that the valley will never end, and the Nick will never come, and that all you have ever done is run ploddingly through boggy ground that sucks your legs into the earth like an underground triffid. Then the wind started. It had been forecast to push us up the Nick, but it changed its mind. It was a ferocious headwind, enough that I stopped to put on my jacket and nearly lost it to the valley. At least this year the boulder field wasn’t too slippery, despite someone near me saying, “ooh, this is dangerous.” I thought, wait till you get further up. I don’t have a good head for heights — and was reduced to a gibbering jelly on an ascent of Great Gable — but for some reason the Nick doesn’t bother me, although it’s steep and rocky and there is crawling.

I made sure to stop and turn round and gaze. If you don’t, it’s a waste of one of the most breathtaking views in fellrunning. I understand that elites can’t afford to stop, but I think otherwise you should or what’s the point?

At the top — after another good gawp at the landscape — there’s a run along the ridge, a couple of other inclines,  some snow and ice. I felt much better now the climb was over — funny that — and once we hit the track and the several miles of downhill, I forgot about the virus and the stomach-heaving chips, and I just ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I pelted it down. A couple of times I looked at my watch and saw with some surprise that my pace began with a 7, and a couple of times I almost fell but didn’t. I overtook a lot of people, and I stayed ahead of them, and I felt surprisingly good. The farm track goes on a long while, then ends at a checkpoint, a right turn into a field and a short climb. Actually it’s an incline, but after three miles of fast descending plus a mile of sharp climbing, a grassy incline makes for jelly legs. I walked for a bit, ran for a bit. In one of the fields, I found Phil, and he ran ahead of me to take my picture and I managed a smile and to flash my vest. Thanks Phil.

At one checkpoint, a marshal said, “well done! Last push. All downhill now.” I appreciated the encouragement  from him and all the other marshals: this is a very well organized race with copious flags and cheery marshals. But if I hadn’t been quite so tired, I would have realised: either that nice marshal doesn’t know the race route or he’s lying. There were two inclines to come, one a small but sharp one up a field, which feels larger and harder than it is. And the other in the last half mile, a track back up to Dufton, which I recognised and remembered as soon as I got to it, with a groan. But it was over soon enough, then the last effort round houses and farmyards, and back to the green. I really tried to push it and must have because Morgan on the finishing line had to put his hands up and say “Stop running!” so I did. I finally looked at my watch and was delighted. It wasn’t my quickest time — 1.43 — nor my slowest — 2.00 — but it was good enough for me. 1.53. I’m happy with that.  Well done to my fellow black-and-blues and hope you had a good run too. Results here.


Rose George

Ilkley Moor Fell Race

Sunday 18th February

A surprisingly pleasant February morning saw me rock up in Ilkley for the race.

My race diary (yes, sad I know!) tells me this is the 13th time since 1998 I have entered it. Nothing much changes, an absolute mud-bath of a course. The first mile up to the Cow and Calf rocks is the usual bottleneck with gnarly runners with their sharpened elbows trying to manoeuvre past slower runners (like me, I guess).

Despite running the course many times, the steep, rocky descent down to the bridge at Backstone Beck fills me with dread, one slip or trip either here or in Rocky Valley which is a bit further on and you will undoubtedly end up a bruised and bloodied mess. We received a buff with the race map printed on it for our efforts and it told me that the Crocodile Rock is situated in the aforementioned Rocky Valley, can’t say I had ever noticed it before but I have heard Elton John singing about it many times.

The section from Keighley gate back to the finish was a struggle to stay on your feet with the muddy, steep descent and those pesky bramble bushes conveniently placed just for you to fall into. For comedy value I lost my shoe in the mud 100 metres from the finish line and finished carrying it over the line!

As is tradition on Ilkley race day we enjoyed an afternoon pub crawl and I am pleased to report, many fine pubs now exist in the town, where as in days gone by the place was a bit of a desert for decent boozers.

John F had a good run, whilst we can gloss over what kind of run I had.

Lots of pics on the Woodentops site.

— Dave Beston

Windy Hill

A very wet and windy affair at Windy Hill Fell Race

I decided to cross the border into the Greater Manchester/Lancashire area to do this category B Medium fell race 9 miles/1281 ft. I fancied a change from the Dales and the Lakes and I didn’t encounter any traffic problems during the 50 minute drive on the M62.

The registration was at Littleborough Rugby Club down the road from the pretty setting of Hollingworth Lake and country park, near Rochdale. There was a strict kit check which revealed that my trusty but hardly ever used Montane trousers were only windproof and not taped at the seams which meant no run unless I could borrow a pair. It was frustrating because they were only going to stay in my kit bag but I understood organisers’ concerns about runners’ safety and potential hypothermia. Panicking, I spent about 20 minutes wandering around the rugby club trying to borrow trousers from other runners, then an angel in the form of John McDonald from Trawden A.C. lent me his spare pair which saved me a wasted trip back to Leeds. Next running purchase will be a pair of taped seamed waterproof trousers!

There was a healthy turnout of runners despite the atrocious weather and lots of comments on the start line about what else would we be doing on a Saturday morning, from watching cooking programmes on TV to lazy lie-ins. The latter being my preference. Even trudging round the White Rose Centre felt appealing as we stood in the mud-sodden field with the rain lashing down. These conditions more or less stayed the same throughout the race.

The front runners dashed off whilst I went out steady, unsure of my fitness for the distance and climbs. I expected a hilly start as you do in fell races but after leaving Littleborough rugby field we ran along a runnable track until we went over the first bridge crossing of the M62. We would later cross over and under several motorway bridges during the race which felt strange for a fell race. Fortunately I like a race with variety! I didn’t have much of an idea where I was running and followed the pack as usual. I thought I was in Lancashire but another runner commented that the race was mainly in Greater Manchester and that Saddleworth used to be in Yorkshire before the boundary changes in the 1970s. I couldn’t see too far ahead of me because of the clag and you couldn’t on avoid getting soaked to the skin, with a cutting wind in your face. At one point I couldn’t blink and thought I might have lost one of my contact lenses. In a masochistic way I settled into being uncomfortably comfortable. I know what I mean.

I was surprised how runnable the route was as we ran along some of the Pennine Way, a climb up the old Roman Road up to Blackstone Edge, another motorway bridge, a hard muddy and boggy slog up to Windy Hill mast, then an undulating path and along the Rochdale Way, then the usual scattering of runners running around or through crater like puddles, icy rocks before the descent, along more muddy filled tracks, under another motorway bridge, a fast runnable rocky path and back into the rugby field to the finish.

The race was well marshalled and flagged so it would have been difficult to go wrong en route, although I’ve learnt anything can happen in a fell race when the wind and rain are blurring your vision and you have got your head down! It was very runnable and the climbing manageable which suited me as I have been doing a few Park runs for speed work and hadn’t been running long distances or doing much hill work. I think a bit of cycling, gym work and swimming helped me tackle the tricky icy, wet, muddy underfoot conditions as I felt stronger as the race went on.

I would definitely do the race again and it was suitable for anyone who hasn’t done many fell races or who is making the transition from trail and road to fell running. There were a lot of fast times and good performances, particularly from some of the female vets. I was second in my age group but a good 12 minutes behind first place F50. It was good to see Karen Pickles, now running for Pudsey and Bramley AC, finishing third woman and 1st F45, taking home a couple of nice long-sleeve running tops. I had my eye on the bumper size Toblerones….  maybe next time!

At £12 EOD or £10 pre entry it seemed pricier than the usual fell race but there was an extensive prize list and 5 year age group prizes. There was also chip timing which I assume adds to the cost but results were speedily available once you crossed the finish line.

I’m looking forward to crossing the Lancashire/Greater Manchester border in the future.

Sharon Williams

Winner Shaun Godsman M45 CVFR 1.01.57
1st woman Alice Swift F Chorlton Runners 1.16.33
121 Sharon Williams 2nd F50 NLFR 1.37.47
203 finishers
The race was organized by Cannonball Events, full results here.

Images by Paul Taylor. Full gallery available here.


Trigger: Sunday 14th January

Wow, what a race! It’s an epic. A whole sheet of an OS map! And a race for the older person: more than 60% of runners were over 40. Place names like Pudding Real Moss, Soldiers Lump, Shining Clough Moss, Old Woman, Wool Pack, Fox Holes to name a few. What more could I want?  So, a run from Marsden to Edale, taking in the trig points at Black Hill, Higher Shelf Stones and Kinder Low.  Straight line measurement is 20 miles but actually around 24 miles with 4000 ft of climbing.

I first ran the race in 2015 and what stood out was the amount of navigation choices to make, the cold and the often poor visibility.  This year I really wanted to nail the route and be confident and ready for the clag, and if all going well perhaps make up a few places with some choice navigation.  I trained throughout October, November and December exploring different lines and establishing bearings.  Some beautiful, snowy and cold outings; returning back across the moors by torchlight.  Fantastic.

So we (Caroline, Dave, Anthony and I) arrived at an already heaving Marsden cricket club at 7:30am.  Kit check, some chit chat and then at 8:30am set off on our way by Nicky Spinks.  The first 10 miles or so over Black Hill down to Crowden were fine.  There was a spring in mine and everyone else’s step.

However, heading up to Lawrence Edge someone said to me “oh the race … it starts now”.  True words. As soon as I get to the top of the Edge, stinging cramp got me.  Very disappointing.  This meant from there on I had to take it steady across Shining Clough Moor.  All that training and sorting my lines out!  Let alone the fact the visibility was absolutely clear and the check points were marshalled by Woodhead Mountain Rescue people all wearing bright red.  There were moments when I felt a touch, I’m ashamed to say, hard-done-by.

Heading from Snake Pass the race goes off the Pennine Way to the site of an old plane crash, which required 20 minutes of trudging through the heather.  I did notice though some people make it look easy.  I could only look on in my just-cramping-trudging state.  After that, the race goes around the edge of Kinder to the Kinder Low trig.  Along this section it became bitterly cold, with frost blown grass, a luminescent fog down below and a lot fewer people around.  Quite eerie.  I needed to stop behind some rocks to get more clothes on and my hands were so cold I needed to ask a passer-by to pull my zip up.  At Kinder Low there is a choice of continuing on the high route around Kinder or on the low route along the Edale valley.  I continued along the high route and as the end neared picked up some energy and finally dropped down from below Grindslow Knoll chatting with another runner into Edale. Miraculously my cramp had disappeared.  All good.

Soup and cake in the village hall with the prize giving and finally to the Ramblers Arms for warmth, catching up and hot chocolate.

Winner 3:28, Anthony 33rd 4:26, Dave 85th 5:09, me 138th 5:47, Caroline 161th  6:17 and 173 finishers.

Alan Hirons

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