I guess a good starting point for this misadventure would be why? I am a roadrunner. I love the roads and although I have grown to love cross country the roads will always be my favourite mistress. After seemingly being stuck in a rut I took some advice from Carole Seheult. She suggested that I needed to love running again and stop PB chasing, so with that in mind I decided to enter races that intrigued me but had never run before because they weren’t on a road. I scoured the race calendar and the two that stood out were the DT20 and Swaledale. As soon as they opened I entered both and was really looking forward to some off road adventures. Before the DT20 I went down to Reeth with my long time training partner in crime, Pete Mason, and we ran some of the DT20 route. I came away feeling that it was tough but achievable. What has this got to do with Swaledale I hear you cry? Well to cut a long story short I ran the DT20 and hated it, my legs were wrecked within the first couple of km and I spent the rest of the race feeling very frustrated. This left me facing Swaledale with some trepidation, I was going to be revisiting the same territory but this time going for longer. Several people tried to reassure me that the Swaledale climbs were not as brutal but I wasn’t convinced.
In the lead up to the race I consulted with a Swaledale vet, who shall remain nameless, who advised me to wear my road shoes over my cushionless Inov8s. This recommendation was reiterated one week before the race so my mind was made up. Unfortunately the weather was not paying attention to my decision as it then proceeded to rain for the entire week before.
I woke on Saturday morning asking myself what I was doing. I had not recced the course, the weather was bad and my experiences at the DT20 were still haunting me. Race day breakfast was consumed and I jumped in the car to drive down. On arriving in Reeth the weather was no better but my mind was made up – road shoes. We assembled in the start field ready for the off, most people in waterproof running jackets that we were sure we would be taking off shortly when we started to warm up.
The ascent of Fremington Ridge began and to my delight I arrived at the top with a piar of legs that seemed to be in good working order. Having run the ridge twice in the past I knew that conditions underfoot would be challenging for the road shoes but to my delight they performed well with no notable traction issues.
Figure 1 – The trusty all terrain Adidas ‘road’ shoes. Next stop Cross Country.
Figure 2 – A photo showing the extensive grip that these beasts posess.
I was slowly working my way through the field feeling slightly cocky about my choice of footwear. We arrived at the descent, a grass like carpet that I had thrown myself down with great delight in the past. A smile started to stretch over my face as… oh shit its like an ice rink. Road shoes + wet grass = no grip. I backed off and slowly picked my way down the climb as runners in grippier options flew past. Reaching the bottom I was not perturbed as we were on a semi solid track and this turned into tarmac as I slowly picked off the runners who had passed me and then some. I saw Elaine Bisson, had a quick chat and carried on my merry way. Oh how I love my road shoes, all is forgiven. Before long Jon Ayres and the second placed female appeared on my horizon and I caught them too. I was enjoying this far more than expected. My legs felt good, my shoes were paying dividends, even the rain couldn’t dampen my spirits. Oh no but the sucking black peat bog that we were about to enter certainly could. I had been warned that this stretch would be tricky in road shoes but 5 miles in the grand scheme of things wasn’t much was it?? Wasn’t much?? It was f*!k$*g eternity. I was all over the shop, even the smallest change in direction had me scrabbling for grip. I slowed to a walk and quickly lost sight of the runners around me. Not a problem if you know where you are going. I didn’t. As I emerged from the black hell Elaine cruised past telling me to latch on and latch on I did. My directional knight in shining armour had arrived. We powered on having returned to a hard trail. I started loving it again, after all I had just completed the toughest part for my road shoes and I hadn’t gone over once. Things were looking up. We descended down towards the river and the run in to Gunnerside, my legs felt good, my body felt pretty fresh and all memories of the DT20 had been vanquished. To get to the river we left the farm track to cut through some fields, not a problem, its grass not the horrible black peat. We enter a field with a steep slope things start to go wrong, smooth soles on wet grass, this isn’t going to go well and it didn’t. It wasn’t long before I was sliding down the hill on my back. I picked myself up, muttered a string of obscenities and studied the line of mud that stretched down my body. I couldn’t dwell though as Elaine was moving and I needed to keep up. We searched for a way out of the field, found it and dropped down to the river and followed it to Gunnerside. Into the check point we went and straight out again, passing runners that had left me on the peat bog earlier.
Figure 3 – Leaving Gunnerside with Elaine who guided me round a big chunk.
Straight out of Gunnerside there is a steep ascent, Elaine powering ahead, me behind furiously trying to keep up. When we arrive at the top Elaine urges me to go on if I feel like it so I open my legs and away I go. Conditions underfoot seem pretty… woah bang. Next thing I know I am lying in some gorse on my back. I hear the words “are you ok Matt?” drifting over. No way I got away with that one. I quickly pick myself up and with a quick “Yes” continue on my… bang. Knees and hands hit the deck, I’m down on all fours. Not again. The footpath began to open up and I passed one runner and then a second. I hit a gravel road I recognised, I knew the end was near and I still felt good. I hit the accelerator and increased the pace passing another runner. The track ends, now I am not sure, I think I know but not 100%. Where is the guy I passed? He appears, I check, he isn’t sure but thinks it’s the way I was going to choose so I go with it. Through the gate and onto an uneven rocky path, yes this is it. My road shoes suddenly come into their own as I start to fly down the path without a care in the world. I pass a lady who warns me that the next section is slippy. Not in these bad boys. I motored on. The end of the path approaches, I know it’s a left onto the road, I open up my stride and throw myself down the hill as I approach the final bend the crowd roars (namely Jo P, Lesley C and Mandy D). Round I go and through the finish. I look at my watch, sub 4 hours. I collect my mug and walk away a happy man.
Figure 4 – Flying into Reeth and the finish.
Massive thanks to Elaine Bisson for being my guide, to Jo P for providing the post race towel, Lesley C and Mandy D for standing in the rain cheering us all home and the biggest thanks go to my Adidas Glide Boosts, I couldn’t have done it without you!!