Well this is the most exciting race I have ever done! I would highly recommend it!
This is meant to be a helpful account for anyone who has not done it before, as well as a race report.
So, it was a race I had hoped to enter but didn’t get a place in as it fills up very quickly! …but then a few weeks before the race, another Strider offered me their place as they couldn’t do it-sorry for them but very pleased to get a place! So began a rapid preparation … but what was the route? It is not on the Swaledale Outdoor club website. Hummm, there is a description but for someone who likes to know the detail it was a bit too short for me. Luckily I found a trace of the route from someone’s Garmin on the Striders website from a past year-thank-you! You can find this by searching for ‘Swaledale marathon’ in the race reports section. I copied it onto my OS map and was able to mark on the positions of checkpoints and ‘self-clip points’ from the description on the Swaledale Outdoor club website. Closer to the event Jon got hold of a few copies of the route and Elaine photographed them and sent them to me. I can confirm that they were the same as the route I found on the Striders website, so it seems to stay the same each year.
Elaine and I were a bit worried about navigating our way! The weather forecast was thick cloud, fog and mist!! Hummm, Elaine had done a few reccies of the route but not of the middle section. I knew the first bit from walking in Arkengarth dale in years BC (Before Children). It was the unknown middle section of disused mining hushes that was grinding our grapes – didn’t want to end up down a sink hole! ..I was also a bit unsure of the crack..other striders helpfully advised me and showed me the start time and registration times are in the SI entries system race information, but as far as I can see not on the Swaledale Outdoor club website?. There is a compulsory kit list on the Swaledale Outdoor Club website which includes compass and waterproof trousers. And importantly you need to carry a plastic cup to get additional water at checkpoints. Jon advised there is water at all checkpoints and food as well at one checkpoint. Also you get a free meal at the end if you like!
Arriving early doors in the outskirts of the pretty village of Fremlington, everything was very well signposted and organized. A big sign saying “marathon carpark” pointed to the entrance of a large grassy field, within which were lots of cars, runners getting ready and portaloos portable toilets and car park marshals. Registration was a short nip up the road in the Fremlington village Hall, the direction of which was signposted and easy to find. At registration my kit was checked and I was given a small yellow card and piece of string. The lady explained this card would be clipped at each checkpoints by marshals who would also record my race number. The card was labelled with numbers of the checkpoints and then with A, B, C and D. These are the self-clip checkpoints. You literally clip the card with a thing that looks like a staple remover exactly on top of the letter corresponding to the self-clip point. As the race starts and finishes in a different place you cannot leave a bag of warm clothes etc. at the start as they only have the village hall til 10am.
So… we were all crowded in a small field ready to start! The weather was as forecast and actually very warm as well. The race began! With a steep upward climb! There were lovely views across a very green Swaledale. I watched Penny, David and Elaine bound ahead! We soon reached the level of the mist, got to the wall and then we were running along top along Fremlington Edge! This was a grassy, boggy, misty fast section! Nice and soft on the feet! Because of the wall and as people were bunched up in the early stages, navigation was easy at this point. Then, at the end of the edge you go past a large cairn marking the highest point (which was not visible in the mist) and then the path zig-zags down the steep hill – except the runners did not!! I was in a group of guys who had done it before and they confidently charged over the side of the hill and launched themselves down the steep, wet, grassy slopes!! Ha ha this was exhilarating! My bum touched the ground a lot! Mainly on purpose as I didn’t want to fall! Thoroughly enjoyed this bit, found it quite hilarious! A girl running whose name I didn’t get who is from Richmond “ran” this bit with me before zooming ahead!
The route then follows the pretty stony path along the Arkle Beck into Langthwaite village. The girl from Richmond passed me again! (she had stopped in the village to use the public toilet there). It was lovely to be greeted by supporters Rachelle, Allan, and Vics plus kids here. After an undulating minor road section you head up a moorland track towards Great Punchard Gill and Great Punchard Head. This was a steady climb! Up and up and up! Fantastic views below mist level. I was running with two guys at this point. We came to a bit where the path divided, luckily just at mist level so we could see runners ahead. The path literally took two routes, which re-joined further up. We decided to split up to see which was fastest. I and one guy took the track and the other took the grassy zig-zag path. It was exactly 50 :50 ! Then higher up we were in thick mist. The mist kept changing from thick to thin, making it hard to tell how far away things were. There was a steep gully to the left, which in thick mist looked like it was really deep, but when the mist thinned the bottom of the gully was only 30metres or so away! (Hard to tell though as I was also moving). At the top of Great Punchard Gill I heard voices and laughter and as if from no-where a mountain rescue vehicle, 3 jolly mountain rescue men and a marshalled checkpoint appeared! After having my card clipped I headed onwards. The path does a sharp bend and is a narrow peaty/boggy/heather path with a sharp drop to the right. It then turns and heads across the top of open moorland. Another nice run across soft peat and bog. I tried to keep up with the group of confident guys I’d seen earlier but they were going fast and so eventually they were too far ahead to see. There was no one behind me for a bit, until footsteps behind me, it was the girl from Richmond! It turns out she had taken a wrong turn after the last checkpoint and descended steeply quite a way, then had had to climb all the way back up again! She was ok, but disheartened. We ran together for a bit until yet again she zoomed ahead! Then after a while another checkpoint … bring on the banana cake!
The next bit was the ‘moonscape’! The heather moor gave way to a high up rocky, barren area, devoid of all plants and peat! This was the hushes. Old mine building ruins appeared in the mist here and there, piles of rubble and a rusty old metal machine thing with a big wheel on it. Ahead I noticed a small red and white flag in the ground, about 30cm high with supporting rocks around it. It had definitely been planted there. Could this have been put there by a child on a family day out? The mist thinned at that moment and I saw a whole line of them! Waymarks, Wayhay! After that the gravel path was more obvious and led to self-check point A-a wooden stand with clips hanging from it. The path then wound back into grassy, peat area down and down, I saw runners ahead! More steep descents down grassy banks and we were down to Gunnerside Beck. I got a bit lost amongst the little gated fields but not for too long and then the path follows the Beck to Gunnerside where there is a checkpoint. Nice support from locals and others …
The last stint is up and over fields and lowland moors. Where there is an up or a down it is steep! (This is the nature of Swaledale!) A final checkpoint at Surrender Bridge gave me much needed water. After a bit I was unsure of the way and was standing consulting the map when a runner caught me up and confidently pointed to a jumper with a stone on top of it and said the jumper was a waymark! He was right! Ha ha I love this marathon! The last miles are blissfully and painfully on the quads downhill funneling to a walled track where underfoot is stones with a layer of slippery grass on top! Negotiation of this leads to the final self-clip point on a farmers gate, then down and Reeth is there! Wohoooo! The finish is down the hill and round the corner in the Reeth village hall. Lovely to see Strider supporters cheering us at the finish! Afterwards, great to drink a cup of tea. And get a very nice bespoke Swaledale marathon pottery cup!
A fantastic adventure I would love to repeat! I’d like to do it in good weather mind to see more views!
Extract from the book Running My Way by Tamsin Imber with permission from Pitch Publishing.
… Jon Ayres
A year ago I’d crossed the line here with equal measures of Joy and Wonder. I’d broken my goal time, taken a decent chunk off my PB but I was left scratching my head pondering what I could get if I hadn’t cramped up and had to take a forced break during the race to let my legs recover. I’d also watched the Ladies team take the prize in their category and thought it would be a very good thing indeed to encourage the Gents to have a crack at emulating this.
Skip forward a few months to November and a, hopefully, friendly persuasion campaign began as I tried to recruit others into sharing my ideas as to putting teams onto the podium come June 2016.
So to the day,grey skies hid the top of the first climb as the officials started the race, Michael Mason and Steven Jackson quickly disappeared from view as us mere mortals followed them up to the heights of Fremington. Myself, Jack Lee (pressed into action only a week prior to the race) and Elaine Bisson formed a group and tackled the road and then trail to the grassland that would lead us to the ascent.
Jack and I ran well together picking off runners and chatting occasionally,his enthusiasm was infectious and my plan of around 10 min miles saw us heading up Punchards mix of trail,track and bog and reaching half way a fair bit inside this program.As we descended into Gunnerside Jack started to pull away as he fell into a group that I couldn’t keep with on the descent, a quick high five as we crossed paths into the checkpoint at Gunnerside village hall seemed to mark the unspoken thought that as of now it was time to dig in and head home.
A quick glance at my watch as the last major climb began confirmed that a PB was on but there was still work to do to secure this,the long slow haul of besting Gunnerside began. The breaks from slow, tortuous hill climbing via a stumbling jog and slower, tortuous hill climbing via a hands on knees walk became more frequent as the yards up the incline increased I also became aware of pre-cramp pains in my legs and started a feeding frenzy of gels, pork scratchings and water in an attempt to stave them off. All the while as this carried on Jack became nothing but a smaller dot in the distance until eventually he disappeared, unfortunately the pains in my calves and hamstrings did not.
Gunnerside was finally beaten, or at least matched, and the levelling of the land allowed for quicker strides to be taken and the last major drop on glorious smooth tarmac into surrender bridge was embraced.The final stretch of the race a PB is on, runners are not so far ahead that they can’t be caught and despite the fleeting shots of cramp I smile and offer my card to the official to be clipped. I’m passed here by a local runner whom I know well, she’ll eventually be 2nd lady home, and I try to match her pace but there’s nothing in the tank that allows the increase: it’s head down now and a march/jog/whatever gets me home and only a few miles of attrition left. A drop in and out of a gorge and I see Elaine Bisson is now on my tail and closing quickly, machismo and panic hit me with equal measure and I lengthen my stride and hope to hold her at bay.
Then as in every other time I’ve raced this event cramp hits, it hurts, really hurts and I try to strectch out my legs. Nothing eases it and the acceptance that the race could be over, PB’s lost with just over two and a half miles to go starts to sink in. A fading of the cramp starts and hope rises anew I can stand, I can walk, I can at least jog time to dig in and run hard for two reasons, I don’t know how long I have until the cramp returns and a few runners have passed me. Fortunately the next couple of miles are mainly down hill and this allows for a good pace (my fastest of the day, maybe the sitdown helped) and that’s it the race is done. Ten minutes are taken from last years run out and despite the enforced break during the race I don’t think I could have run any harder or made any more time up and whilst a hugely improved field from last years race saw me finish further down than 12 months ago I’m content and settled with my efforts.
The ladies of Elvet defend their trophy, Mandy Dawson and Penny Browell who takes second female vet were part of the team that won it last year with Elaine Bisson (third female home)and Tamsin Imber part of the unit this year too.The Male contingent take Third with three debutantes amongst their number,the aforementioned Micheal Mason,Steven Jackson and Jack Lee provide very strong placings as I make up the numbers. Tom Reeves continues a strong year of running since surgery breaking four hours whilst Mike Bennet,Jan, Barabara Dick, Juliet Percival and Camilla are amongst other striders who get to keep a bespoke hand made mug.
Mentions to the families who supported too must be given the Masons,Jacksons,Browells and Bissons were loud and plentiful many of them appearing at various points of the course. Whilst Allan Seheult and Matt Archer gave up their day to offer support and refreshment.This year was very much a team effort and the places whilst won by those out on the course belong to those who backed them too. Sincere thanks to all.