In honesty it shouldn’t have surprised me that what had started over a year before and eventually developed into a determined pact between two men to come back and conquer a fell race ended in a roar of noise. That noise for the most part was Mark “encouraging” me (not so gently) up the hill towards the final lane and the finish not far beyond. Besides the noise what I remember is mostly made up of fragments of images and a feeling of overwhelming tiredness as I pushed my body to its limit. I felt I had long since passed what should have been my limit but a year’s work is not something to be thrown away easily and the end was all but in sight. So I ignored the fatigue, the pain and the cowardly voice in my head calling for an end to the first two and pumped my legs.
This feat of probable stupidity had started a year before when Mark and I, without any idea of where we were going, ran the 5th leg of the Calderdale Way Relays from Wainstalls to Shelf and by divine luck and following people who looked like they knew what they were doing made a good fist of it all; coming in a just a minute over the hour cut off for that leg. We probably could have left it at that and walked away heads held high but I think we are both more than a bit stubborn and we made a pact to try it the next year but this time having recced the course. It took us until the Tuesday before to get out and figure out where we would be going on the race day and there was quite a comparison between our amicable lope over the hills to Wainstalls and then back again to Shelf and the actual race day. It took over three hours and involved a fair amount of time lost, especially at the start. In the end what should have been 15 miles ended up nearer to 17.5 and the light was almost gone but the fire in our stomachs burned all the brighter.
Nothing Mark and I do can never be easy and we both did our best to ruin the start of the race with Mark turning up in the nick of time 15 minutes after registration should have ended and my bambi on ice moments in the first mile. The mass start of the race was hectic with not so much warning of the start as a shout from the marshals that the race had started. We all hurriedly dashed off with Mark and me falling into place as the third pair (we would finish 2nd from the mass start by the end). The crush of people meant I wasn’t getting much time to see my foot placements and after five or so minutes I did what I had feared and rocked a bit over on my left ankle. The day before, however, in a rare moment of insight I had bought an ankle support which probably saved our race and after a few limping strides I managed to get running again. At this point we were on the first of the three most trying climbs of the route up a grassy and mucky slope through farm fields to the farm buildings themselves. Here we pushed, keeping up with those around. Until we happily crested the hill and started down a long grassy descent a long what might be an old mining track to the outskirts of a small village.
I felt Mark pushing and it was all I could do to keep up with him. Generally either one of us could be ahead on the uphill, the downhills were my ground but on the flat I felt like a sailor without a boat…desperately trying to keep afloat. It continued like this for a good while with a few scrambles through fields and the odd chance to throw ourselves through small gaps in the walls until we reached the longest climb. It started with a steep road section which I happily ran. In the recce we had agreed that both of us could walk and run the loose track afterwards (still steep as anything) but Mark was obviously feeling in fine fettle (see the next photo) and dragged me up at a slow jog with him, passing a few groups with batons on the way. At the top we met two ladies one of which appeared to be very tired and her partner (obviously the fitter) was pressing ahead. We had a brief section of flat…Mark sped up, but I knew after that there was a tight squeeze through a gate and a downhill section. The fitter of the two women was battling to stay ahead of me, however, and I had to call most of my strength just to dive through entrance before her even though her partner was a fair distance behind.
The downhill was a relief and for a while I could be the one pushing but what goes downhill in fell running quite often has to go back up and after crossing a small stream we had a short steep climb into a quaint hamlet before a very steep and grassy climb. I had to warn Mark as he tried to miss the turning towards this horrific slope. By this time it was just us and Team 7 (Baildon Runners). We had been nearby each other all the way through the race and now as the end was in sight we both took chances to try and break away from each other. First came their attempt after the grassy slope on the still uphill but not as steep lane and then one of Mark’s shortly after. I pushed and pushed determined not to be holding him back. After a few fields and lanes we came out onto a road just above Shelf and Mark roared into action sailing down the hill and I went with him.
It was the uphill shortly afterwards where he started encouraging me enthusiastically, with the two others behind us mirroring. As Mark shouted “Come on Jack” we could hear from behind “Come on Eoin”. I am going to be honest that the climb felt slow. I later found out that we had done the last half a mile in about three minutes. Mark had splits in pen on his arm and he neglected to mention that while we had been 35 or so seconds up on last year at one point we had lost that before the last mile and a half. After what felt like an eternity of torment we came to the turning and I all but sprinted down the lane. I remember a flash of the paving stones and one of the pair behind shouting “30 seconds”. We burst out of the laneway to happy faces and I pumped one fist in the air as I stopped my timer on 59.37. The later results are wrong and still say 1.01 to my chagrin. We had done it and given Louise and Keith a 10 second or so head start on the pack, which was hard earned and I suspect we will never get thanked for…
Results are available to download here