My favourite domestic event of 2019 was the inaugural Brathay Ambleside Trail 60. It was a route of some 37.5 miles made up of three distinct sections. A fast, flowing trail up and over Loughrigg from Ambleside to Coniston was followed by a series of steep ups and downs for the next 20 miles to the foot of Grasmere Common. The final section was made up largely of road and hardpack to the finishing line in Rothay Park.
After so many cancellations, it was great to receive the news that the 2020 event was going ahead, despite the return to work from furlough of many of the Brathay staff just a month earlier. The weather this time around was very different to last year’s ‘Indian summer’ race. Registration was at Brathay Hall under a heavy and brooding sky. Ambleside Parish Council had ruled out the use of Rothay Park as a start and finish area which resulted in the longest and most technical walk to a start line I’ve ever encountered, at Lily Tarn, a ‘mere’ 20 minutes away up on Loughrigg Fell. I thought I had plenty of time to meander and take a couple of photographs. I made it to the line with a minute to spare!
The line was a three-square socially distanced grid to enable runners to start in groups of six at five minute intervals. Runners who expected to take longer than 10 hours had been asked to book a starting time between 7 and 8am. I had selected an 8.35am start, having completed the dry weather route in just over 8 hours in 2019. It was wet and very greasy underfoot on the rocky walk to the start so I now doubted my thinking after seeing only a handful of runners with later starting times including the likes of Ben Abdelnoor. There were four of us in the grid when the starting signal was given by the marshal and two of my fellow ‘competitors’ sped off into the distance as though they were in a 10k fell race and wanted to be back in time to shower and change before the pubs opened. Suffice to say I didn’t see them again.
The early flowing trails of 2019 were once again evident this year. I never recovered my form after last year’s event when I ran the last 5 miles hard but I went on to suffer with problems that a chest examination and thoracic X-ray didn’t clarify. A long October day out at Lakes In A Day – some 3 hours longer than planned – had been followed by a DNF at the Tour de Helvellyn in December. I resolved to take it easy this year and run well within myself, especially as my training plans for August were stymied by a hectic return to work since the end of lockdown. My pace of 10 minute miles during this lightly rolling opening section was comfortable and I felt pretty good. I had overtaken two runners in the first 10k but Ben Abdelnoor and a few others had floated past me. Running through the Tongue Intake Plantation, I guessed that I must be close to the back of the field.
The weather had actually done little to change the opening miles of the challenge although I did my best to make it harder by turning into some woods with fallen trees after a large route marker had shifted direction at a forest road intersection. I retraced and stopped to replace the tilting marker to prevent others from going the same way. My mind had been distracted by information coming from my Garmin. I’d put it in UltraTrac mode for the first time, to conserve battery life. It had suggested that I had clocked a couple of 6 to 7 minute miles, impossible for me at the best of times! I also began to doubt the distance information as I went on my way towards the beautiful balcony section of trail that overlooks Tarn Hows from the east.
The wind picked up and the rain started just as I followed the broad and elevated path. A glimmer of sun suggested it would ease so I kept the waterproofs stowed but it worsened dramatically as I began the first steep ascent of the day intersecting Coniston and Yewdale Fells. Another, brighter shaft of sunlight offered hope but it only brought a worsening in the weather – the mild start had also given way to some wind chill – so I donned the waterproof and moved on. Seconds later I ran into John and Gemma Wandless, a warm welcoming distraction from the hoolie. I was more than happy to chat for a minute, a natural break from the effort of the climb. I moved well to the high point and descended into Little Langdale where I made the first of numerous stumbles that were to become quite common during the next few miles. When my feet stop moving well, it’s usually a sign that I’m not at my best and I began to feel tired as I headed towards Blea Tarn.
The promise of the feed station at 30km helped my spirits even though I knew that it would be a limited affair with water, electrolyte drink and energy bars. The wonderful food that was on offer last year was a casualty of running a ‘Covid-secure’ event. The feed station at Skelwith Bridge had been dropped completely and the first one was much later at Great Langdale. A brief exchange with another runner – I was being overtaken again – confirmed that my watch was deceiving me. I had thought it was a kilometre to the feed station and it was more like five. The next three miles were a grind.
I was awful on the relatively flat section of The Cumbria Way to the foot of Stake Pass. Offering some salt to another runner suffering with adductor cramp, he recovered well enough to overhaul me soon afterwards. I was walk-jogging at this point. One heavy stumble, recovered just before a face plant beckoned, had tweaked my unreliable back and I popped a couple of paracetamol with a handful of plain chocolate coated ginger bonbons, a jam sandwich and a generous swig of electrolyte. As I began to ascend Stake Pass, a double equipment fail of my waterproof zip opening from the bottom and my pole belt detaching itself into a puddle around my ankles had me ready to throw the rattle, toys, cheating sticks and everything out of the pram. Right on cue, the wind and rain returned with a vengeance to scatter my frail state of mind across the fellside. A few minutes of faffing ensued and I gave myself a proper telling off. For goodness sake, the hardest part of the event was still to come, and then some.
Whether it was the energy rush or paracetamols (or both at the same time) I found a really good hiking rhythm up the unrunnable Stake Pass and crested the top completely rejuvenated. I overtook perhaps a dozen runners, en route to the next feed stop at Langstrath (40km/25 miles). Cold roast potatoes were an unexpected treat and the hiked ascent to Grasmere Common was a joy, especially so as I took time to look around back to the beautiful Langstrath Valley. Even a treacherously wet section of hand to rock adjacent to Lining Crag was enjoyable. This is the stuff that focuses the mind on efficiency and safety of movement rather than time and distance. Brownrigg Moss and the ridge to Gibson Knott was a fun-packed bogfest full of hamstring stretching leaps which tested my short legs to their limits. Although this section felt much rougher than last year, I enjoyed it more. After passing Gibson Knott, the clag remained high enough to see the approaching shape of The Howitzer atop Helm Crag. I remembered this as a key moment last year as the zigzagging, runnable descent of the Bracken Hause sits a few hundred metres before the summit of the crag where the transition from boggy fell back to trail begins and the final hardpack/road section of the Trail 60 beckons.
Happily running down the Hause, I arrived at a simple wooden footbridge next to the road which I promptly tripped over and almost went down again. No worse for wear, I happily jogged through Grasmere Village to the final feed station at 32.5 miles (52km). The hardpacked trail provides picture postcard views of the lake and is followed by a beautiful section along Rydal Water. I’m not known for my love of road running but I was more than happy to move on easier ground on the run in to Ambleside by the quiet lane under Loughrigg. I had called Sue from the feed point to say that I hoped to be at Brathay Hall within the hour. Just over 47 minutes later, I rolled in some 8 hours and 50 minutes after setting off, 35th out of 108 finishers. I was surprised to be 1st MV55 home out of 12 (3rd over 50/22). I was some 15 minutes behind the first overall vet 55, Catherine Musetti from Ambleside AC, who was also – rather wonderfully – 1st female.
Thanks to Sue and to John and Gemma for being at the finishing line supporting the runners coming home. John and Gemma had already put in a decent shift on the fells. Sue, as always, was at the finish and ready with my favourite post-race treat, two blocks of a plain chocolate Bounty!
The Ambleside Trail 60 is a super event which I can heartily recommend to anyone looking for a tough challenge that is shorter than the Lakeland 50. What it lacks in distance, it more than makes up for with a series of hard ascents and rough terrain amongst some of the most beautiful valleys and fells of The Lake District. Whether you are thinking of your first Lakeland ultramarathon or your umpteenth, this one is a great choice.
I’d seen the Esk Valley Walk route a few months ago, and had been toying with the idea of running it, either over 2 days, or making it a more challenging single day out. This weekend, I opted for the latter, along with a night camping in the van with Adrian.
The route starts with a 17 mile loop (leg 1) from Castleton round and over the moors to the source of the Esk. Then there are 3 shorter ‘legs’ from Castleton to Whitby, generally following the river valley but wandering up and down either side. The terrain is a good mix of moor, grassy field footpaths, tracks and trails, plus a little road (though often with a soft grass verge to keep off the tarmac). As well as beautiful countryside the route passes through some of the prettiest villages in the area.
I decided to do this ‘solo’ and ‘unsupported’ – which basically meant carrying a large picnic, along with other essentials. I could top up my water from ‘natural sources’ – no problem considering my route. I downloaded maps and the route description from the website – the description in particular is excellent and easy to follow.
Adrian dropped me at Castleton just before 7.30am and saw me off from the start at the railway station; he was later on the pier at Whitby to see me finish. I am so grateful he’s happy to support me in my adventures, even when it means he misses his weekend lie in.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day out – the route is fabulous and I would recommend it as either a run or walk. The weather was good, plenty of sunshine, though a brisk breeze on the first moorland leg, and great views. I felt ok – legs tiring (as always, as expected) after about mid-20 miles but managing a relatively constant overall pace. And more importantly I was happy all the way, grazing through my picnic, drinking Esk water, and soaking up the scenery.
I didn’t race round – I was treating this as a fun day out, stopping to admire views and the interesting things on route. But hitting leg 4 and only 8 miles to go I thought ‘wouldn’t it be good to do this in under 8 hours’ – which culminated in a sprint through Whitby town centre to the pier, not recommended on a sunny, busy, Saturday afternoon!
My watch recorded 38.4miles and just under 3500 feet of climb, most of the ups being on the moors on ‘leg 1’, and up to Danby Beacon, with the rest of the route ‘gently undulating’.
Adrian and I camped that night just outside of Whitby, and I used my day out as a fine excuse for making the most of an enormous pub meal and bottle of wine – a good end to a wonderful day.
Yes, it had to happen! Sooner or later actual racing was going to restart, and Martin Stone, well-known to fell-runners and those using SiEntries, was the man to organise it. This 13-mile race was set up as, I think, a bit of a test event, the first fell race since lockdown, and one to be observed by the FRA and others to check out Covid19 security measures. These involved using essentially a time trial format, six runners going off at a time at five minute intervals: 234 runners, taking all morning to get set off. We could choose our start time, and groups of up to six could ask for the same start to have a bit of a mini-race. No water stations, mask on at the registration and finish, and they asked for not too much hanging around before and after the race.
So, how did it go? Well the whole thing was organised superbly, and no one behaved stupidly, as far as I could see. The only people perhaps not socially-distancing enough were the quite large numbers of the general public also in and around Lowther Castle during the event – quite a few in the cafe courtyard – but the organisers had no control of that.
Race-wise, I set off pretty strongly, but had a taster of how the day would go when I found the long 3-mile climb out of Askham very heavy-going. I put it down to the heat at first (20 degrees at 11:00, then getting hotter), but as I kept taking little walks to get my breath back, it dawned on me that giving blood six days earlier was having an effect: I kept going ‘into the red’ far too easily. Once I realised this I could manage it better, and try and keep my effort (and pulse rate) down on the climbs. But it was much harder work on any sort of gradient than it had been just a week earlier.
I’d expected lots more overtaking, and being overtaken, than in a normal race, where runners essentially self-sort till you end up alone. But, though I did see more people, we were still pretty sparse. Nice route – a bit of everything, including lovely soft grass, some tarmac, some stony hard track, a long drag, a very big hill, a bit of bog … and a plodge through a river!
Very pleased to get back to the castle … took about two and a half hours, which was much longer than I’d expected, but it could have been worse in the circumstances.
A good crack! If this is the new normal for racing, it isn’t bad …
I found myself in the unusual position of being able to take a day off at the end of July, so I took my opportunity and booked it. I really wanted to go to the Lakes to run some fells but other commitments meant that a full day trip wasn’t practical, so I started looking a bit closer to home – perhaps the North Yorks Moors or the Yorkshire Dales? I’d never run in the Dales before, so when I came across the Reeth 20k Trail Race and realised it would be about an hour’s drive from home my plan started to take shape.
The weather forecast was scorching, with temperatures due to reach 29C in the afternoon, so I wanted to be finished before it got too hot. I managed a fairly early start, arriving in Reeth just after 8:30 only to find that Friday is market day, with part of the green taken up with the market and a lot of people already parked up. Luckily there was still some space, though, so I parked up and paid £2 into the honesty box for all day parking. After changing my shoes and checking my kit, I was off.
Rather than walk to the normal race start, I decided on a gentle jog in to warm up a bit. I found my way past the chapel and along a back lane to drop down to the river and suspension footbridge. It was deserted as I picked up the race route on the other side and started off at a gentle pace for the first mile or so proper alongside the Swale. At the far end, the path turned away from the river and climbed to the road where I doubled-back for a quarter of a mile, before following the finger-sign pointing me right, up onto the moor and the start of the main climb of the day.
All of the route from here, until reaching this road again, was on clear tracks and very easy to navigate, so much so that I tucked away my map and unconsciously let my Garmin do the work for me (I’d uploaded a copy of the course that I’d found online and checked against the OS map beforehand). Nav beginner mistake number 1! It wasn’t until a little while later when I thought “I don’t know this area and don’t actually know where I am on the map” that I gave myself a virtual cuff around the back of my head and got my act back together. GPS can fail for many reasons and should only ever be a back-up. I worked out where I was along the track from the various features and kept tabs on my position as I went after that.
I’d set off with the intention of running this route in a relatively relaxed way, not treating it as if it were a race, so I was walking the steeper hills (in fact, most of them) and getting moving again on the easier and downhill sections. In reality, I was working reasonably hard, not helped by the heat. I was slathered in factor 50 and turned my cap around to help keep the sun off my neck. I’d drunk a bottle of water with an energy sachet in it on the drive down so I was fairly well hydrated to start and kept taking on water as I went.
I was stopping periodically to take photos as well. There were some great views across Swaledale; this isn’t the rugged, craggy fells of the Lakes and a bit bleak in places on the tops, but with the mostly clear skies and a bit of distant haze there was plenty of scenery to take in, when it was possible to raise my eyes from the track! I also noted a few local features, like the road crash barriers re-purposed as drainage culverts across the track. There were also childrens’ paddling pools being used to create drinking ponds for either the sheep or grouse, it wasn’t obvious which they were intended for.
And if I spooked one grouse, I upped a hundred, they were almost as common as the sheep. A word of caution for anyone heading up there after the not-so-Glorious Twelfth (of August) – I’m sure a lot of this route will have grouse shoots going on, so better to check before travelling down. There were a lot of other birds around too (none that I got a clear enough view to identify) as well as the ever-present sheep (mostly Swaledales, of course).
The track climbed continuously, with a couple of respites, until a T junction on Whitaside Moor at about 4.2 miles into the race route (4.8 miles for my run). Turning left, the climb continued right up until crossing the fence that runs over High Carl and Gibbon Hill and marks the top of the southern ridge of High Carl. From there, the track enters Apedale (at least, the beck is called Apedale Beck and the track Apedale Road, so I’m calling it Apedale). Here it starts to drop, so I took the chance to open up my stride a little and benefit from gravity. I still needed to be cautious as the surface underfoot in the steeper top section was still pretty stony. It would be very easy to turn an ankle and this is a pretty remote part from which to need rescuing and combined with the pressure it would put on Mountain Rescue due to Covid-19 restrictions I wanted to make sure I avoided that. Further down, where the gradient eased, the surface improved and this was a chance to really get moving, hitting sub-7 minute miles at some points (put in the context of a 15 minute third mile during the climb and getting on for an 11 minute mile average over the whole run, this should give you an idea of how much fun the downhills were!). Another thought going through my mind was not to get too carried away as I knew I had another decent climb to come.
The sign this climb is approaching is reaching Dent’s Houses, which are just the other side of another gate across the track. At the crossroads, a left turn took me almost immediately up towards Greets Hill. Near the top there’s a small quarry (stay to the right, towards the cairn, if you want to avoid the quarry itself) and the fence junction at the top marks the end of the second climb. From here, the bridleway became more grass than stone, which was much more pleasant to run on and allowed a pretty rapid descent to the road across Grinton Moor.
Apart from a farm crew repairing the track early on, this is where I saw my first people of the day, as a couple of cyclists passed slogging their way uphill. I was pleased to still be descending, even if on tarmac for a bit. It wasn’t long (a third of a mile or so) before I was back off onto the bridleways and heading up the valley above Grovebeck Gill. This was a marginal incline – noticeable by this stage (I was 10 miles in) but eminently runnable. The target was the spoil heap and building visible up the valley, at which point the track turned and I was back into downhill mode.
Approaching a complex-looking junction, I quickly re-checked the map – straight on – and continued the descent. Rockier underfoot here, so cautious again. Eventually the track reached a field above the road and this is where I made my first minor nav error, following the bridleway to the right as I hadn’t seen the track branch off left, cutting off the corner. Not to worry, no big deal. Another short stretch of road before a right turn at Harkerside Place which has a footpath signpost to Reeth – nearly home. This is where race signage or marshalling would have helped because the footpath signs get a bit sparse. With a few false starts and a minor detour I eventually got back on the right path and dropped down to the “finishing field”.
I decided that the end of the suspension footbridge would be my finish point – I would have regretted running all the way back up the path to the village. And besides which, the crowds had started to come out – there were kids swimming in the river, people queuing to take photographs of the bridge (no, I’m not kidding), dog walkers…I was just glad I’d set off early!
In the end my route recorded as 13.2 miles with 560m of climb, which included a 0.6 mile warm-up from the village and a couple of small nav errors in the last mile, so 20km / 12.5 miles was pretty much spot on.
The village green was even busier when I got back but after taking a steamed-up “finished!” selfie and a quick change I couldn’t help starting my recovery with a good mix of protein and carbs from the Ice Cream Parlour.
This was a great route with some lovely views of the Dales. It was very quiet despite the glorious weather and with the combination of distance and climb should prove to be a helpful session ahead of some Lakeland runs, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.
Not the London Marathon – but the London Championship Marathon Virtual Relays!!!
Didn’t know they existed? Well they didn’t, until last weekend, when 6 somewhat frustrated locked-down Striders (Stephen J, Michaels L and M, Emma T, Corrine W and I) took to the roads, treadmills or anywhere else as deserted and flat (or ideally downward sloping) as possible, and hurtled their tired legs through exactly 1/6 of a marathon as fast as they possibly could. This varied rather amongst team members – notably Stephen Jackson and I may have differed a little in the actual outcome of running as fast as possible. Nonetheless we all got suitably exhausted from our efforts, and then added up our times to see how we fared against our natural competitors (Mo, and the likes of…).
So – we managed an awesome 2 hours and 36 minutes and a few seconds (I forget…). Which really does make you realise just how fast our friends Kipchoge and Mo are!! But hey, if we did 400m relays and had a really huge team, I’m sure we would stand a fighting chance against those giants – as long as they were doing the full marathon.
Other benefits of our version of the race included the Very Short Toilet Queues. And a really nice Zoom meeting afterwards (we had to do it by Zoom because Stephen appeared to actually have gone to London and to be sitting in the bar at St Pancras station. Or had he?? I’ll have to teach him how to set his Garmin for time and distance travel – so much easier!)
Confession – due to other pressures this race was extremely poorly advertised, i.e. not at all. This had the foreseeable consequence that we were the only team entering and therefore we came first. And, simultaneously, last…
After sacking off Manchester Marathon due to a slight Achilles issue in January, I was looking to revise my springtime race calendar once the ankle allowed me to run again. My first port of call is as always, the club GP fixture list, it offers such a diverse range of events I couldn’t recommend it more to any of our new members looking to do something slightly different, chances are there’s always going to be at least one other strider there. Saying that I’m fairly new to the off road stuff, other than the harrier league, I’d ran in a couple of races over the Christmas period and managed to place 8th at Captain Cook’s on New Year’s Day so I was keen to give road racing a break and have a bash at more fell races.
Bilsdale was next on the agenda, £10 entry, 15 miles and just shy of 4000ft of climb. Lovely.
I have absolutely zero knowledge of the North York Moors so when Fiona B suggested a quick trip down for a recce a few weeks before the race I jumped at it, the only problem with this was that it was the day Thornley got cancelled because of Storm Ciara. The wind was absolutely crazy, on the descents you could lean forward and the gusts would hold you up like a scene from a Michael Jackson video, at least it can’t be any worse than this on race day I thought! However, in the time between our recce and race day, the Lambton Estate HL fixture was rescheduled for the Saturday before Bilsdale. This put me in a bit of a predicament knowing how demanding Bilsdale was going to be and given that the men’s team were joint second in Division 1 and with a big turn out there was potential to top the league. I was never in any doubt that I would participle in Lambton but just how hard I would go, maybe I could take it easy for two laps and push on the final? These thoughts rattled round up until about five minute before the gun when I saw Nina just after finishing the ladies race, she was also doing Bilsdale and I think her exact words were, “it’s a different kind of race tomorrow, it’ll be fine”. Needless to say I went hard from the off…
Arriving at Chopgate village hall early on the Sunday morning for registration, everyone was a bit precautious with the handshakes and congregating in close proximity to each other due to the current climate, but everyone seemed to be grateful that this, unlike so many other events was still going ahead. Having had my kit check complete, picked up my number I had a meander round the car park eyeing up the competition; I’d already done my usual cross-check of last years’ results and this years’ participants, followed by a browse on power of 10 and Strava profiles… In the build-up I was quietly confident that if things went well, I could place quite high in the field. What I’ve learnt in my short tenure in fell racing is that things don’t always go the way you plan.
The start is at the bottom of the first climb, quarter of a mile or so on tarmac before turning off onto a trail and up to the first steepish section. I started off in the lead pack of 4, an easy pace compared to what I’m use to but I knew what lay ahead warranted the slower pace, the pack began to spread out by a few yards and I made an error by following the guy in front instead of looking up at the tracks. By going round instead of straight up a climb I lost a bit of time and two guys from Durham Uni passed me by taking the shorter route, I carried on at the easy pace regardless knowing that from CP1 there was a long stretch of downhill that I could open up my legs and try to regain some of that distance. The looped one way system at CP1 allowed a quick thumbs up to both Michael and Barrie before putting my head down and picking the pace up down towards the road crossing, thankfully the wind wasn’t too bad on this section and I started to slowly reel in the two lads in front. They were just starting the climb up the steps from the road as I was crossing it, this is where the efforts from the XC the day before began to make itself known; from the road to CP2 is a continuous climb up and my legs started to feel it big time. I looked at my watch, 5 miles, wow I was in for a long day if I’m hurting already. I plodded on, not really making time on the lads in front and no one had passed me so at least I was breaking even, passing CP2 and heading round towards The Wainstones where I made another bad call on the route.
During my recce we went straight through the stones and down but pre-race Barrie mentioned there was an easier trail that went round to the left, I did neither and found myself doing a few zigzags/parkour leaps until I found a way out and back onto the route, passing Zoe and the kids spectating. After another climb up to CP3 and the subsequent descent where again, I made another error following the guy in front by bearing left after a gate we started to climb again and when we approached a junction I knew we were in the wrong. I followed the trail on the right to get a better view and down below as expected, I could see a few runners heading towards the scout hut at CP4; I had two options here, either head back to the gate and get on the right route inevitably losing more time or as the crow flies straight down through the bushes, I decided on the latter more fun option. The climb out from CP4 towards the stone seat absolutely killed me, my legs were absolutely screaming by this point and I could have quite happily face planted and slide all the way back down. I opted not pursue with this strategy though and carried on slowly climbing, from the stone seat was pretty uneventful for me heading back down and electing for “the shoot” route towards the stream checkpoint (CP6), from here the route was flagged up to a small road section to keep us pesky runners off someone’s land. This time round the tarmac section seemed so much longer and steeper than what I remembered from our recce.
There was further uncertainty among a few of us on the route to CP7 but no major issues or loss of further time, Jan was marshalling at this checkpoint and she called out I was in 11th, people ahead must have missed this checkpoint as I thought I was further down the pack. Slowly getting to the top of the climb a walker and his grandson stopped to ask me what the race was, welcoming a very quick break for my worn legs I stopped and pretty much had shout over the howling wind for him to hear me. From here it was anyone’s guess at the best route down to CP8, I carried on down the firmer track until I thought it was the best time to veer left through the heather and down to the gate; I’d overshot it by about 200m and ended up on a small track with runners heading towards me, that’s never a good sign but it didn’t look like I had lost too much time by the time I had U-turned at the checkpoint. From here on I was pretty confident of the route and there were no major hiccups in route selection, the biggest challenge now was just getting to the end, I had absolutely no power left in my legs; I’d already had a gel and even tucked into my emergency food supply.
Heading out of Scugdale (CP9) I had a brief chat with another runner who gladly pointed out this was the last climb, once at the top and heading towards CP10 I employed a run/walk strategy with the first signs of cramp in my right quad showing, I didn’t want to push too hard to have to walk the whole way back to Chopgate. The twinges in my quad became slightly more bearable so I gingerly dropped the walk element of the run/walk strategy and plodded on to Cock Howe Cairn, the final check point, I felt a slight wave of relief overcome me as I knew it was all downhill from here. My legs were too far gone by this point to even try and pick up the pace, I had to use all my energy to concentrate where I was putting my feet regardless of hearing the panting of someone behind me, I couldn’t even muster the effort to try and put in a spurt to hold him off and he went flying passed towards the finish. With about 200m to go, from behind, I heard “COME ON GEORGIE!!”, it was Fiona coming in fast and we eventually finished with about 10 seconds between us. She finished first lady, a brilliant performance. I scuttled straight round to my car and chugged a bottle of water and got some warm clothes on before heading into the village hall to have a delightful cheese pasty and piece of red velvet cake to regain some calorific goodness.
Regardless of the pain I was feeling for pretty much 66% of the race, this was a great event in a great location and as long as it doesn’t land on the same weekend as a HL fixture next year I will definitely be back – it has only contributed to my ever growing love for fell racing.
The 2019-20 cross country season saw its fair share of disruption. Lambton Estate was a new fixture this season but the first attempt was rained off and it was rescheduled to March. Druridge Bay suffered the same fate and by the time Thornley Hall Farm came around in February there wasn’t an option to postpone it and it was cancelled.
Then, with the season heading towards its close, COVID-19 has put its oar in. Lambton wasn’t cancelled but it was reaching a point where individually people were starting to question whether they should be taking part. Men’s cross country Captain Stephen put out a message to the club encouraging everyone to judge participation individually and to be sensible about how we conduct ourselves. At that stage, it was a tricky balance between avoiding unnecessary risk and wanting to contribute and support the club. In the end I judged it reasonable for me to attend. Subsequently, the Harrier League organisers had to cancel the Druridge Bay re-run, so it turned out to be the last race of the season.
We went into the fixture with the mens team 3rd in the league, tied on points with second-placed Gateshead Harriers and 3 points behind Sunderland Harriers in first place. Blaydon Harriers were breathing down our necks just one point behind. We had an outside chance to win the league and a great opportunity to finish in second; we just needed a massive performance.
The women’s team started out equal fifth on points with North Shields Poly. They seemed secure in the league but Heaton and Elswick Harriers were poised within a few points to strike.
I’d picked up new member Tom Dutton and rising XC superstar Alex Mirley to give them a lift. For once I arrived in time to see the start of the women’s race and there was a good section of the taped area taken up by Striders men cheering them on. Also for a change, I was well prepared and was quickly geared up and ready to go for a warm up, unlike my normal rush to get my number on before jogging to the start, which isn’t the best starting line experience. I got to cheer on some of the women finishing, right up until the point that the slow pack got called up to the start.
Waiting for the start is always a nervous excitement. I haven’t been a counter for our team yet but I normally try to get to the front of the pack to at least give the other clubs someone they have to get around. And I reckon that extra couple of metres, that odd second, might just come in handy later.
The gun went off and away we charged towards the first turn and the stable block before hitting the tarmac estate road and starting the steep descent towards the river. There were plenty of people in spikes opting for the grass verges but I’d decided on studs much earlier in the week and was confident in my choice. There were a couple of brilliant steep drops at the bottom of the hill which took us to the riverside and onto the main track, where I was finally able to settle into a more sensible pace.
Measuring it afterwards, the track was about 1,200m long until hitting the climb that we knew would come. I’d settled quickly into a good pace alongside Peter Telford from DCH – we get on well, but there was no chat and both of us had our game faces on. I could see Geoff Davies’ and Robin Parsons’ vests bobbing around in the pack not too far ahead and I had hopes that I might be able to at least keep them in sight.
I ran the first Lambton 10k back in 2014 and knew the hill back up would be steep and unpleasant and I wasn’t disappointed, with 30m of climb in about 300m. It never sounds as much in numbers as it feels at the time in the legs and lungs. I was pleased to reach the top, though, feeling strong and able to keep up my pace while I recovered from the climb with others gasping around me. I picked the easiest line around the field edge at the top to save my legs and we were quickly into the woods heading back to the entrance road. Once there, the tarmac / grass verge choice was only about 50 metres long before heading back into the trees and by far the wettest part of the course (apart from the river). Choosing the right line was critical to balance a longer detour against the strength-sapping mud of a direct route.
The estate had also generously included a fallen tree to add to the decision-making – drier but longer to hurdle the low part, or straight line through (reasonably) deep water? The first time around I went for the detour and was amazed that the person in front virtually stopped to clamber over the tree – I planted my foot on the trunk and launched myself past him while he faffed.
Once off that ride, the paths dried a bit to vary between flat and firm to deeply claggy, but all still eminently runnable. After a few twists and turns there was a short drop and we were passing through the gates into the castle grounds. No-one was stopping to admire the architecture from the front lawn, though, and in moments we were back onto the road and turning right into lap 2.
The arrangement of the field was great with the start and finish areas close to each other, which meant we had brilliant support. I was so focused on the race that I don’t remember everyone who was yelling encouragement, but I remember Joanne and Wendy, with Jan and Nina roaming the course as well. Sorry to those I can’t remember but your shouts made a massive difference, they do every time.
The second descent was fast and uneventful but as I hit the track again I could see Geoff and Robin ahead – was I actually gaining on them? I’d also realised that in between them and me I had Paul Swinburne’s vest as a closer target to aim for. Perhaps this thought was too tempting as I overcooked the 2nd climb and went a bit too deep, taking longer than I would have liked to recover at the top. Going back into the woods, I was more adventurous at the fallen tree, going for the middle option but also spotting some of the Medium / Fast pack runners overtaking on the straight line.
Round we went again and by the third visit to the long track, I realised I had fallen away from Geoff again. I realised that I’d dropped Peter but I’m not sure where that was – perhaps the first climb, I wasn’t really paying attention, just running my own race.
I got the third climb just right, pushing as hard as I dared but able to recover normally at the top. I was gradually gaining on Paul and at the tree I took the direct (wet) line and came alongside him. My dreams of picking him off weren’t to be though, he started to lift his pace through the woods and I couldn’t match him from that far out.
There was no-one immediately behind me as I passed the castle (confirmed by a quick glance over my shoulder at the bend) and there was a good crowd in front so I knew I was aiming to pick up places in the finish rather than defend from behind. I hit the grass and put the hammer down, driven on by the encouraging shouts from the spectating Striders. I managed to pick up one place but the second was too strong and he held on.
In the end, I finished 6 seconds behind Paul Swinburne, 29 seconds down on Geoff and 35 on Robin, coming in 173 out of 325 and lowest scorer of the Striders D team. I really felt as though I’d acquitted myself well, an improvement on previous XC races. Even Jan Young said I was a cross country runner now!
We came second on the day and second overall for the season. The women’s team managed an excellent 6th and maintained their place in the top division, an even better achievement because we only had 7 runners. Fiona has already summarised some of the other great club results from the day but I wanted to add a couple of other observations. We fielded 5 male teams – 30 runners, the most of any club. Gateshead Harriers didn’t manage a full team. DCH had 7 runners and placed 9th. Our B team would have placed 5th and every member of our D team (as well as B and C) impacted on DCH’s team score. This truly is a team sport and all runners can have an impact on the result, even if you aren’t a “counter” for the A team.
Fiona Harrington Hughes is very good at talking me into doing races.
We decided to give the Gerry Kearsley winter handicap ago because it was a local race and it was free, we just had to turn up and run. Fiona picked me up at 9 am it was a freezing morning -1 . We found Bishop Middleham Community Centre very easy (easier than we found Temple Park a few weeks ago). We had discussed in the car what times we thought we would do, because I had got a PB at riverside parkrun the day before, I had also done the Brass Monkey half marathon the week before and pushed myself, also it was day 19 of RED January, taking all these into account I put 55 minutes because it was a trail race and I had managed 52.44 at Durham City in the summer. I had a 5 minutes handicap.
It was a very friendly atmosphere in the community centre, Christine from Sedgefield Harriers talked us through the route. It wasn’t a very big turn out, but a few from local clubs, it was mainly Sedgefield Harriers.
The race started at 10 am from just outside the community centre, Fiona set off at 10.03 and I was just 2 minutes after her, my plan was to catch her and stick with her for a nice chat, she had other ideas!
I crept up behind her at about 2.5 mile and shouted “you’re a hard lady to catch” her reply was “go and catch the girl in the pink cap” so I thought ok, I’ll give it ago not thinking that I could catch her.
It was a 2 lap course so once I passed the starting point I knew what was coming. The course was well marshalled who all gave encouragement, I could see the pink cap in the distance she was quite away ahead and I couldn’t seem to close the gap.
I slipped a few times going over the stiles due to the ice, the muddy parts of the course were rock hard due to this. We got onto the old railway lines, it was nice and flat I could still see the pink hat and she wasn’t too far away, the gap was closing but I needed to push a bit more. A Marshall shouted you’re in 2nd place, that give me a lift and I managed to pick up the pace.
The pink cap was getting closer. She was in front of me going through the last field and I got behind her. I knew the last hill was coming, I managed to overtake her going down a short hill and as I hit the bottom of the hill I made my arms go and pushed to the top (last weeks Theatre of Dreams session and hill training came in handy).
I could hear her breathing I knew she was close behind and could overtake at any second. I thought I’m not letting her past.
I had Gemma in my head saying always save a bit for the finish. The finish was just round the corner so I had to dig deep. One last push, but I didn’t know where the finish was.
I turned the corner saw a Marshall and she pointed me to the finish funnel. The girl in the pink cap hadn’t managed to get past me, she was only 2 seconds behind me.
I was 1st! However as it was a handicap I thought I hadn’t won because I knew I wasn’t the fastest. Fiona soon crossed the line followed by the other 2 striders. She was over the moon when she found out I had caught the girl in the pink hat!
I still didn’t think I had properly won, but at the presentation I got presented with a massive plaque (that I get to keep for 6 months and my name will go on), a bottle of Prosecco and a buff.
I had won!
They also did a spot prize and Fiona won a bottle of wine and a buff. We had cleaned up!
We had tea and cake after the race in the community centre. It was a nice friendly race that happens twice a year, the next one is in the summer on a Thursday evening, I would recommend this race because as I have proven you don’t have to be the fastest to WIN.
The Brass Monkey is one of my favourite races, a chance to see ‘where you’re at’ at the beginning of a new year, a new decade in this case. I’d purposely dedicated a four-week block of training to this race, and throughout December I’d managed four consecutive 100 mile weeks, an arbitrary target for the obsessive club runner in me. I’m not blessed with natural top-end speed but I am very lucky in that I’m pretty resilient when it comes to knocking out fairly high mileage without breaking. A preventative flu jab and plenty of vitamin C had got me through December without so much as a sniffle.
A two-week taper, of sorts, including a few much-needed lie-ins over Christmas and I arrived at the start line in good shape. I knew from a few key work outs and a good race at the North Easterns’ that a PB was possible. I’d decided to race, rather that run to a target pace and latched onto the second group, and I was probably only twenty seconds or less behind the leaders at 5k. The pace was quick; but felt comfortably hard. I was on the edge, but that was exactly where I needed to be to run my best.
By 10k I was in a group of 5/6 runners, taking turns to lead the pace. I was deliberately not using too much mental energy off the front, quite happy to ‘tuck in’. We passed through half way in 34:32 – I made a conscious effort to look at my watch at this marker. There was lots of surface water but it was a mild January morning, with very little wind – perfect running conditions really once the rain had subsided early on in the race. Around mile 9 there was a change in the group dynamic, two runners had caught us and began to increase the pace, three or four dropped off the back. Liam Aldridge of Bill Marsh House had finished ahead of me recently at Alnwick and I knew he was running well, I tried to hang on. Kilometre 15 was a 03:12 split, 16 minute 5k pace; I was starting to feel more ‘on the edge’ than before.
Rather than back off I adopted a ‘now or never’ approach, I decided I’d rather blow up than back off too much; not wanting to settle for second best. My experience told me the body sometimes has a little more to give. Suddenly, those early relaxed miles felt a long time ago. It occurred to me I’d had a gob of spit on my chin for a few minutes because I was too tired to wipe it off, I didn’t want anything to break my rhythm. I was still moving fairly well and despite the best efforts of the two guys in front of me they were no further ahead by mile 12, in fact I’d closed the gap a little. I knew a PB was in sight, I just wasn’t sure how big.
I instantly though of coach Allan at mile 12. Every year he made the trip to this race to support Elvet Striders. He would appear after about a mile on the way out, disappear for cake and coffee (of course) before standing at the top of the bank, just as York racecourse is in sight. I realised just how much he will be missed on days like this. “You’re running really well Stephen, just relax”. I suddenly had his voice in my head. Often, he would shout my position, never as high as it was to be this year.
The Spine Challenger – ‘A non stop 108 mile race between Edale and Hawes…This challenging and technical section of the Pennine Way is a physically and psychologically demanding route that demands concentration, good physical fitness, resolve and respect.’
Where to start? I feel shell shocked, overwhelmed and as if the last few days have all been a very strange dream verging at times on a nightmare! But then I look down at my elephant feet and I realise it was more than just a dream.
I’m standing on the start line of one of Britain’s iconic races, ‘Britain’s second most Brutal race’, absolutely petrified. Frantically trying to open my poles and spot where my family have gone. The start has caught up on me way before I feel ready….
If I take a deep breath, I know that’s not entirely true, my own training plan I have followed to the letter, despite struggling round one of the long runs, The Tour of Helvellyn, with flu…what doesn’t kill you and all that! Strength and conditioning, done. All of my kit has been weighed, checked, packed on training runs and used. Although somehow, I didn’t quite anticipate such a heavy bag, the kit list is huge including sleeping bag and stove, all in all its just shy of 10kg. My big let down is my recceing, I managed two recces, the other planned days were taken over by illness or other commitments. I’ve studied the maps. I know if I take my time, I’ll be fine. I just have to believe.
I travelled down on Friday to get my kit checked and register, a pretty stressful event in itself. The race briefing is the scariest one I’ve ever been to. We are warned about the weather…’gusts that WILL blow you off your feet. Constant rain’. We’ve been told to wear our goggles, too many last year fell victim to wind blindness and had to retire…wind blindness, really????
Registration done, we drive 10 minutes to the cottage I have for one night, my family for the weekend. Aptly called Happy Feet, it’s beautiful and I wish I hadn’t found such a gorgeous one, to make it easier to leave.
Back to the start line, Stuart nudges me, pointing at Jen Scotney, he believes she is my only worry. Standing there, my only worry is whether I’ll make it to the other side!
The valley is gorgeous with the rolling grassy fells flanking its sides, the sun has only just decided to rise, the wind is already making itself known. We wind our way up towards Jacobs Ladder, I know this is where I’ll potentially see my rivals…I’m always good at climbing, even when my legs are shot. I reach the top in first lady position and am briefly interviewed whilst on the run. I tell them I’m looking forward to the adventure…
The landscape becomes increasingly wild and absolutely stunning. Huge boulders everywhere, the sky glowing pink, the wind blowing a hoolie and trying its best to knock me over…which it does, quite a few times. I feel alive! We traverse Kinder Scout, the tiny lights of Glossop still twinkling as the dawn breaks. We make our way to what is surprisingly called Kinder Downfall. It certainly wasn’t falling down today as spray curls upwards soaking everything nearby, myself included. Crossing on to Mill Hill, I’m getting increasingly more confident, absorbed in the moment and the landscape.
Despite a little line of runners leading the way, the man in front has already managed to take 3 wrong turns…whilst on a pretty big trail or flagstone path. I quietly giggle to myself.
On to Bleaklow, the path is quite sheltered, being cut away and almost sunken in the landscape. This does mean I can’t see any other runners, but I’ve got my map. I’m attentive to any other turns, of which there aren’t any, and continue on. Soon enough I’m out of the dip and views stretch across to Torside Reservoir. We circuit the steep side of Torside Clough and descend onto a large track to the first mini Mountain Rescue checkpoint. I spot my family in the car, just arriving on the road, they all stick their heads out and shout ‘we love you, well done!’ It always amazes me how such a brief meeting can cheer you up for miles.
I’m pleased to be offered tea and biscuits which I stop to enjoy, dunking custard creams into my tea. Stuart catches me up, then the second lady. She’s polite but I sense the competitiveness as she refuses any nourishment and quickly disappears along the track. Not long after, I catch and pass her on the way up to Blackchew Head. I feel happier as I manage to increase the lead by gaining more ground on the climbs.
The side of the ridge of Laddow Rocks drops precipitously to my right. I’m concerned as with the height we’ve gained the wind has picked up and is again trying its best to push me over the side. I use my sticks to fix me to the ground and feel relief when we finally drop down onto stone slabs. I’m still with Stuart and we chat away, its quite a bleak run towards Wessenden head MR point. Here, we’re told in no uncertain terms to put on our goggles or risk missing the race. I stop briefly to locate them and then I’m off on a wide track to Wessenden. It’s a pleasant downhill run around the reservoirs, then off up a steep muddy trail and across Wessenden Moor. The wind is ferocious now. We are reduced to a walk as we fight to gain ground. It’s blowing big waves across the tiny reservoir. At the A62 junction my family, to my surprise, have stopped again and my daughter has run to meet us. She tells me how cold she is in the wind, as if I don’t know! I get a few brief cuddles, shouts of ‘we love you mum’ and I’m gone. Leaving Stuart behind as he tops up fluids.
It’s strange passing over the M62, all of those people in warm cars, speeding along, miles passing in minutes. While I’m up on the footbridge, being buffeted and threatened by everything mother nature can hurl at me. I’m soon aware that I’ll have to stop as the rain and darkness threatens to fall. When the man in front sees his opportunity, I too stop and get my waterproof trousers and mitts on. I stuff my headtorch into my pocket. Stuart passes, already fully waterproofed and I work hard to catch him up again.
Just before Chelbourn Moor, we drop down to another MR point. Someone is holding the gate open and shouting my name. To my delight I realise it’s Kerry and her daughter, who I’d met at the coaching course. I stop again briefly, hiding in the MR van and have another tea with numerous biscuits until I brace myself and exit, back into the wild. Darkness has engulfed everything and the weather is horrific. I’ve not witnessed anything so scary and I’ve been out in all sorts. Soon we’re submerged into hell. The light from our headtorches bouncing back off the mixture of fog and horizontal rain as it lashes us this way and that. The wind howls and gusts. We can barely stay upright nor see our feet, never mind discern the track we’re supposed to be following. Thankfully we are a party of three and we stick together, one clutching his GPS like his life depends upon it. I keep telling Stuart how scared I am. Stuart then suggests one of us keep our headtorch on and follows the others without their headtorches switched on, allowing the others to see better. It works a treat and we take turns until it improves.
Soon enough it lifts and we’re onto Warland Drain and briefly on water laden flags until the boggy bits before Stoodley Pike. I’m quite excited to be there. I’ve seen it from the valleys but have never run up to it. It’s a welcome sight, even in the rain and gloom.
There’s a light up here and I think its attached to a building until I see it move and realise it’s Max. I cheer up no end. To have ventured out to greet us on a dark, extremely windy and rainy night, means a lot. He’s careful to run behind us so that we can’t be accused of cheating. Soon he turns off back to his car and we head down a good track to Hebden Bridge. By now I’m starting to feel the cold. The bogs have slowed my progress and the wind is strong. I pick up speed on the descent, eager to get warm again. Somewhere along the road, Stuart drops back and I don’t see him again until the checkpoint.
I’ve picked up another runner. We work our way to Hebden Hey, me spotting signs and him check, check, checking against his GPS and map. We make our way up a tiny little lane, rising steeply from Hebden Bridge and wade through the quagmire.
We pass up a little lane by a house and I’m pleased I have company. The lane is lined with odd gnomes, one of which is a clown and surely would feature in a horror movie. It’s still raining, although not so heavily. Soon we’re on the main road of Slack and drop down steps, ankle deep in mud and debris with a newly formed stream gushing over everything. This is where I’ll have to retrace my steps after the checkpoint. Those new dry socks I’d been so looking forward to will immediately be soaked and covered in mud.
I get a lovely welcome from the volunteers who cheer and clap and quickly and efficiently lead me through. I take my trainers off and they’re labelled and put near a radiator, not that it’ll do much good. My bag is already on a table. It seems surprisingly quiet, there are only a handful or so runners there already. They tell me food is available in a different room. I ask to see a medic. I’ve been religiously applying Vaseline to my back, where I know my pack rubs, but it’s beginning to feel sore. I change into a full set of clean dry clothes. It’s heaven.
I hang my coat near the fire hoping it’ll dry while I’m eating food. In another room, I’m welcomed by the giddy staff cheering me in as first woman. I am offered four different meal options. I opt for a vegetarian pasta then a lovely rice pudding with a heap of strawberry jam. I have two cups of tea then go through to see the medic. She quickly and expertly puts pads and then Ktape across my lower back. She says I’ve probably caught it in time.
Then I’m back to sort my supplies. I’ve given myself 30 minutes grace and want to use it efficiently. I left myself a checklist on top of my bag so that I wouldn’t forget anything. It’s another 62 miles to the finish, with very little support on route. I happily go through everything and only faff a bit choosing extra layers. I’m told the rain that had been forecast to stop at 2am is now set to stay. I opt for lots of layers, putting on my baselayer, primaloft top, primaloft jacket and Paramo jacket. I stuff another fleece into my bag and get my spare gloves, hat and buff on. I’m ready, sort of. On my way out, feeling refreshed, I pass the second and third women. This gives me a boost, they certainly do not look fresh!
When I go to leave, the interviewer asks who I’m buddying up with for the night. I shrug. He tells me the man I came in with, has only just left. He’s on the Mountain Rescue Team race and would be great for nav and pacing. I try my best to catch up with him. We stay together over Heptonstall Moor. Everything by now is waterlogged. The paving slabs all sit below inches of water. My headtorch creates these amazing waves across the long grass in the bogs, it seems to dart lazers along the stems. It’s quite beautiful.
We weave our way round the Walshaw reservoirs. I’m enjoying his company. We don’t talk too much, but keep each other going at a good pace and on the right track. On toward Withins Height. It’s with huge disappointment that I realise his pace is dropping. He soon tells me he’s struggling with shin splints and urges me to push on. The trail across the moor is reasonable but I soon see a light ahead and try harder to speed up. Just above Ponden I catch up with Gary Chapman. He’s a Spine and Spine Challenger veteran, in fact he’s local, living near Ponden. My luck is in! He knows all of the direct lines across what are now swamp fields and he chats incessantly. It’s lovely company and reassuring that I won’t lose time or waste energy covering any extra miles by getting lost! The rain has by now subsided and I start to think daylight is nearing, only to realise the full moon is lighting up the tracks.
We stop briefly at Lothersdale MR point. Gary’s club has put on a non-official checkpoint for the last few years, offering food, drink and shelter. His friends are all marshalling and they run up the track taking orders via a walkie talkie, so hot drinks and soup are all ready when we arrive. It’s a first class service and much needed escape from the elements as we’re wrapped in warm blankets and fussed over. Chris soon arrives, although I haven’t met him yet…
Gary had planned a longer stop, but his friends tell us we are unbelievably in 6th and 7th position. I easily persuade him to reduce it significantly. He’s never been so high up or so quick with his splits. Happily, he accompanies me out of the door and up onto mud sucking fields. Each and every field tries it’s best to pull our trainers off whilst simultaneously draining our legs of all energy. I don’t enjoy the next few miles. It’s flat and on a good dry day you could skip over these fields but today every step is a huge effort, pulling against the mud and wading through sodden fields. By now Chris has caught us up.
At Gargrave, a lovely lady who has driven to Mcdonalds at some silly time in the morning, waits at the roadside with 3 teas for us to enjoy! She’s been busy tracking us through the night and has arrived in perfect time. We happily accept her kind offer and shelter briefly in a bus stop.
I start to feel incredibly tired, its been nearly 16 hours of darkness and it’s starting to take it’s toll. I’m relieved when the sky lightens around Airton. There are a few diversions in place to avoid the worst of the waterlogged fields.
I enjoy the track toward Malham Cove. Leaving the monotonous water drenched fields behind, is a relief. The landscape at last opens up in front of us and is stunning. I do wonder whether someone has been up painting images of sheep onto the face of Malham cove, but keep quiet, quite sure it’s just my sleep fogged brain playing tricks on me. On the steps up to Malham Cove, we leave Gary behind, he’s eager now that we push on. I stay with Chris and follow his lead as he goes across the limestone. Moss and huge cracks, threaten to twist or break our ankles. He slips and falls breaking one of his poles. With our daft route choice, we’ve lost time and arrive back on the Pennine Way only to realise Gary has pushed quite far ahead by taking a higher, easier path.
I start to feel quite cold, my pace has dropped off with the awkward, rock strewn path. I’m getting quite low in spirits (I really wish I’d brought more gin). Thankfully, just before Malham Tarn, Max appears again with his cheery smile despite the inclement weather and my moody face. By the checkpoint I’m really cold and quite concerned. I’m wearing almost everything and look like a Michelin woman. I warm up with a lovely hot chocolate and somehow manage to persuade Chris to join me back on the trail. ‘Let’s get this finished’, I urge. By now he’s 3rd male and desperately wants to cling on to it and I’m still maintaining first lady position. He’s also feeling the cold and getting increasingly fed up. We start to run to warm up on the easier tracks and continue towards the end, run/walking and encouraging each other on. He’s perfect company.
Fountains Fell seems a never-ending climb. It’s pleasant and easy enough but the higher we climb the more cold, windy and foggy it gets. I’m trying to orientate myself and chivvy myself on. Desperately searching the skyline for glimpses of Pen-y-ghent, our next big climb. Its hidden in cloud. Dropping down to the road Chris pushes ahead. My knee is beginning to hurt on the descents.
On the road I’m stopped twice. Firstly, offered a tray of cookies and when I decline, saying they look gorgeous but I would struggle to swallow them, the man races back to his car and brings out a handful of gels! A few hundred metres further on, an old man jogs up and asks for a drink order, he then races back to his car and presents me with a lovely sweet coffee. It’s part of The Spine magic, I’m not sure if they realise just how touching these wonderful gestures are. They even know my name as they have been tracking me.
Heading up to Pen-y-ghent, Chris has waited to make the climb together. I struggle with tired legs and the wind that is trying to detach us as we scramble/crawl up the rocks with our huge packs. There are a few moments when I fear I’ll be blown off. The other side is even worse, descending on the God-awful slab steps. Chris, again, pulls away.
Surprisingly, Max is again waiting up the lane and he chats briefly trying his best to reassure me that the second lady is not gaining, despite my slower pace. Problem is, I think he’s just being kind. Panic rises as I start to think that after 90 miles of being first, I’m going to drop my position. Arriving at the MR checkpoint, I’ve just about had enough despite the kindness of the staff, who bring me soup and bread. I’m entering into quite a dark place. I sit with Chris, who looks equally crestfallen. Two rather sprightly men pass through and we both think our places are dropping. I urge him to get up and head on out before him.
I spend a while faffing on the road in Horton, my brain is muddled and I can’t make head nor tail of the simple map. The more I look the more I get in a pickle. It is ridiculous, its daylight, the sun has even decided to make a brief appearance, I’m on a large road in Horton. It’s quite obvious where I am and I can’t remember the way nor see it on the map! Thankfully, Chris catches me up, calms me down and I’m back on it. Map in hand, I’m determined not to lose any places by getting lost on this final stretch. I know the route, I’ve covered the ground numerous times before, my confidence is increasing again.
By now, my quads are in agony, my legs work but I have to ignore the pain. I tell myself over and over ‘pain is temporary, victory lasts forever’…something on a motivational video Stuart has filled my head with, although I later realise the ending is somewhat different. I like mine better! It works and I continue to walk the hills and sort of run the flats and downs. Chris is lagging behind until we pass a photographer. He tells Chris he is in fact third male, the other two who had passed were MRT challenger racers. We work together pushing onwards to Cam End. By Cam Road he’s had enough of the panic that has risen in him. He stops to check his tracker. Catching me up he reassures me the second lady is way behind, maybe 4-5 miles. However, he says the next male is about 2 miles away. He calculates and recalculates our pace and time. We move as fast as we can. Unfortunately, I struggle to keep up and its disappointing to see his red jacket pull further away into the increasing darkness. By West Cam Road, I really need to put my headtorch on, but I know if someone is not far behind it might just be the thing they need to give them a spurt of energy. I still don’t believe anyone about my lead over the second woman! I keep it off until a high wall when I’m out of sight. I have to stop again to get my goggles out. The wind has picked up, a few times I’m blown and stumble to the side and my eyes are stinging with its ferocity.
I search and search for the signpost onto the last boggy section to drop across the fields into Hawes. Aaron had warned me before my recce that it was easy to miss, so I’m on high alert not to miss it today. Finding it, I start to panic as there are two tracks and for a minute I can’t remember which one is correct. Taking stock, I calm myself down and choose the right track but take my GPS out just to make sure. I’m too close to risk it now. Soon I see the familiar red jacket again, Chris has waited to run into Hawes with me. He said he’d tried to wait on Cam Road but the wind had been horrendous, so he’d pushed on.
It’s a wonderful feeling being a team again and seeing those longed-for lights of Hawes. It’s just a shame it seems to take an age to make them any bigger! Chris is still on high alert, he keeps checking behind to see if a light is catching us. We slowly make our way down into Hawes, taking another diversion that has been put in place to avoid the worst of the muddy fields. We gladly follow the road and soon we’re passing through the houses, along the tiny lanes, through a gate and we’re again being interviewed as we make the final push to the finish. I hear cowbells and my daughter appears, mad as a hatter. Chris’ pace increases and increases, somehow I keep up and it’s with relief and extreme happiness that we pass through the finish line together. Unbelievably, I am joint 3rd overall and 1st lady.
Afterwards, I sit with my family, Fiona and Max who have come to cheer me in. I eat soup and drink tea, I’m transported to the YHA to shower and clean up (the best shower ever!)I have my photo taken with a trophy, mine will be engraved and sent on. I’m awkwardly interviewed. Then going out of the door I’m told my ‘prize’ is free entry into next year’s Spine Challenger. ‘Oh hell!’, I think.
Over the next few days I eat everything in sight and I’m still hungry. I stumble around, my feet belong to an elephant and I have no shoes that fit. I have managed to survive relatively unscathed, minimal blisters, a few toenails due to fall off, but pretty well considering. I’m totally overwhelmed with the messages I’ve received. I never imagined that while out in the wilderness, at times feeling very alone and scared, that so many people would be watching my tiny dot progress.
Strangely, it doesn’t take me long to start thinking about how I can improve for next year…Britain’s most Brutal certainly is an apt tag line. It has been the biggest adventure and challenge of my running life and yet I did it. I vowed never again…but perhaps ‘never’ is a word I shouldn’t utter!