8.00am on the morning of the race Paul F & I pitched up to registration, in my case, to hand in my number for anyone who hoped to get an entry on the day. It was drizzling nicely.
An hour later at the start, this year’s cohort of runners seemed somewhat diminished from previous years. The purple posse was there in strength … and the rain was building up.
If you don’t know the course of the Swaledale Marathon it’s 23+ miles over quite diverse terrain, including valley paths, some steep climbs on rubble and bog, some awkward peat hags, some decent paths over the moors and a pretty unpleasant, stony downhill path to the road down to the village of Reeth. Saturday was probably one of the worst conditions I have seen for this run. It was going to be difficult and challenging – a certain bog-fest, even for the experts. A baptism of fire for Swaledale ‘virgins’.
After the start, the walking wounded – Mandy and I – trudged in the now heavy rain to Reeth in search of coffee and shelter. In the meantime the purple posse was doing the slog up the rubble to Fremington Edge. This is a swampy, boggy ridge which goes in the direction of Langthwaite, the route goes through a gate downhill into the valley and then on roads to the first checkpoint. On Saturday Fremington Edge would have been at its most unpleasant – and I hear it was very boggy – but nothing compared to what was to come.
The route then is mostly on roads to Whaw and the second checkpoint. After this is a steep uphill climb to the main road, which the runners cross to the path up to Great Punchard Head. A small stream on the way up had become much more full, and the stream crossing at Great Punchard Head seemed to have become a challenge to some people, as Paul arrived there. After Great Punchard Head route finding can be difficult but, although it was cold, very windy and the rain was hammering down, Paul said that the route was clear. No mist. And, for the first time, the path was marked with flags. However, the ground underfoot was very difficult. Nina said that she lost her footing and one leg ended up knee deep in a bog. A runner in front of Paul ended up thigh deep in a bog – thankfully he was able to haul himself out. Luckily, visibility was clear and so runners could find their way to Little Punchard and then on to Level House – a fantastic food station with tea, sandwiches, cake, flapjacks and lots more.
By then I had joined the dash to Gunnerside – you have to get there early to get a parking place. The rain was now relentless. I missed the first few runners coming through but I did see Jack, and then Stephen and Gareth (poster boy for next year’s race??). The camaraderie of supporters is really amazing – everyone shouts for other people’s runners as they sprint down that riverside path to the road. Even though you don’t know them! The purple posse came hurtling in after that. Phil & Tim, Matthew & Elaine, David Brown, then Jules, Mike Bennett, Jan, Nina, Malcolm Sygrove, Camilla & Kathryn and then Paul! I didn’t get photos of Elaine Bisson (3rd lady!!) who ran a blinder with Mathew Archer (how could he possibly have run that course in road shoes???), or David Brown – his picture was black .Rain?
From Gunnerside the runners leave the road at the top of the village, taking a long steep path up to a (usually) decent path to Blades. Part of this has vehicular access for the cottages and farms so wouldn’t normally be difficult. At Blades the route veers off to the left onto a level moorland path to Surrender Bridge which can often be quite muddy – a quagmire on Saturday! Surrender Bridge is the last manned checkpoint and marshals point runners in the right direction for the last push to Reeth. Once you’ve negotiated ‘Crinkly Bottom’, a small but steep ghyll, (I hear it now has a bridge to cross it), you make your way to a long, narrow and often steep path of stones and boulders. Punishing on, by now, sore and weary feet. For me it’s always been a nightmare. Then it’s a downhill cruise on the road to the finish.
In the meantime, I drove back to Reeth, after Paul came through Gunnerside, and joined the finish supporters at the Buck Inn. People were sharing stories about the bogs, the peat hags and the awful conditions underfoot. It was certainly a more difficult course this year – for everyone. Gareth said “Never, never, ever again!”. Tim said “It was great I loved it”! Everyone had a story to tell! Spirits were high.
Regardless of the conditions, Elvet Striders did a great job. We were second male team, only just beaten by East Hull Harriers. And Elaine Bisson was 3rd Lady in a sensational 03.55 and was 33rd overall. There were some excellent times:
Michael Mason – 3.24, Jack Lee – 3.36, Steven and Gareth 3.39, Mat (road shoes) Archer – 3.53, Elaine (super woman) Bisson 3.55, David Brown 4.19, Tim & Phil – 4.31, Jules – 4.36, Mike Bennett – 4.45, Nina – 5.10, Jan – 5.17, Kathryn – 5.19,Malcolm – 5.26, Camilla – 5.27, Paul Foster – 5.37, Joan & Anita – 5.42, Emil Maatta – 6.02, Anna & Catherine – 6.51, Barbara Dick – 7.01, Louise Billcliffe – 7.20, Christine Farnsworth & Margaret Thompson – 7.42.
I hope the first-timers won’t be put off. On a good day it’s a fantastic course with wonderful scenery. Saturday was not the best start! However it takes more than a day’s deluge to dampen the spirits of the purple posse.
Here’s a gallery of some thoroughly soaked Striders!