Thursday, 19 March 2009

Vasque series race 2 - Wuthering Hike / Haworth Hobble 32mi. Sat 14/03/2009

Wuthering Hike
Eeh, I’ll go t’ top o’ t’ stairs; that were more like it. The second Vasque series ultra run – The Wuthering Hike or Haworth Hobble – was a breath of fresh air in more ways than one. Yes, it was a bit windy, which was a struggle to battle against in the early stages if you were going fast (I didn’t really find it a problem with my profile and at my speed) and the scenery was back to the ruggedness we’re used to on these events. The hills were back, it didn’t rain and we returned with mud-spattered legs and soiled shoes to prove we’d done something. Normality has been resumed. Marvellous.

I drove up with Steve Lang to arrive nice and early to get car parking sorted out. Bonus, the pay and display machines were out of action, so free parking for all. The sun was already trying to shine, the forecast rain having dissipated, never to trouble us. The start venue was much better than the Westfield Lodge venue I’d only ever experienced before; much more space to spread out and decidedly less draughty.

After a few cups of tea (we didn’t get that two weeks ago), a final top-up of food and much essential networking, with 5 minutes to go I wandered up the hill with Jez Bragg to the start on the cobbled street outside The Fleece pub, but where was everybody? There was only a handful of us here. Then the hoard came, sauntering up the hill with a minute to spare. Laid-back, low-key, no pressure (only what you put on yourself), that’s what I like about these events.

After brief announcements from Race Organiser Brett, we were off, a little late, but who cares? Up the cobbled Haworth street we jogged, around the delivery vehicle blocking the road, out of the village then onto Haworth Moor along the Bronte Way. The queue at the stile at Bronte Bridge was only three people deep and there was no illegal fence-jumping this year (at least not while I was watching). We climbed up to the ruins at Withins before turning left and heading across the moor to the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs. Everyone seemed to be turning right across the first dam but I continued on my preferred route to the second dam before turning right. It probably gained me 30 seconds by the time I reached the road.

I got chatting with Paul Dickens with the orange wig, who I’d seen on the Wye Ultra. He’s also going for the Vasque Grand Slam and getting himself sponsored in the process for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign. Wearing that wig through the hotter summer events deserves all the sponsorship he can get. Good on you.

Checkpoint 1 (7.5 miles) at Widdop Reservoir was as windy as ever. White horses danced across the water towards us as we crossed the dam and headed out onto the undulating track run westwards towards checkpoint 2 (10.5 miles), on the way catching a teasing glimpse of the wind farm way off in the distance to our left.

A left turn at CP2 and the trail veered south past Hurstwood Reservoir, at which point the two Chris’ (Brown and Webb) caught up with me and overtook, running strongly into the distance. Across Cant Clough Reservoir dam we ran and on to checkpoint 3 (13.5 miles) at the wind farm for a broken biscuit. A left turn onto the road took us past the turbines, which span almost silently, save for a gentle whistle from two or three of them, caused no doubt by an unwanted vortex from one of the blades. The whistle rose and fell by the Doppler effect as the source of the noise approached and receded with the rotation of the turbine. I saw flocks of birds flying quite happily between the towers, unperturbed by the rotating turbines. That’s two points from the environmentalists and NIMBYs debunked – noise and disturbance to wildlife (there isn’t any).

Checkpoint 4 (15.5 miles) brought us to the south-easterly cross-country traverse via tracks, footpaths and lanes down to the main A646. I was overtaken again, this time by Cath Worth and Adrian Dixon, who seemed to be enjoying the day as much as I was. This section could be navigationally difficult due to the proliferation of paths to choose from, but thankfully my memory served me well.

The near-vertical climb up the hill from Lumbutts provided a welcome walking break and recharged the batteries for the run across the fields (yeah, right) and down the road to checkpoint 5 (19.5 miles) at Mankinholes. The 'battery charging' was completed by 15 seconds pause and the consumption of a jam doughnut at the checkpoint.

Grateful thanks having been proffered to the checkpoint marshals, I was off again in the direction of Stoodley Pike, its ominous, brooding black “obeliskness” looming over the surrounding habitation that hugs the valleys. I shuffled up the track, waiting for the doughnut to kick in, to the final, ever-steepening assault of the steep side. We were soon over the top, past 'the obelisk' (CP6 – 20.5mi.) and descending northerly in the direction of Hebden Bridge, the final descent to which is steep and hard on Tarmac. I was blasting down chasing another group ahead, using my two hand-held water bottles as counterweight shock absorbers to cushion each footfall. A kind lady in her car waited patiently for me to pass before continuing up the road. It must have looked serious. Little did she know.

The climb out of Hebden Bridge was typically Calderdale – near vertical, up endless, black, zigzagging, foot-worn steps around retaining walls, with a bent handrail to hang onto (if you weren’t carrying two bottles). This brought us out onto the long uphill road walk to Hepstonstall and CP7 (24mi.), then down again to checkpoint 8 (25 miles) at the Hebden Water river near New Bridge, where I caught up with Chris Webb again (he’d had to let the other Chris go). At this point I could almost ‘smell the barn’, to coin an Americanism, so a quick water bottle top-up and thanks to the marshals and we were off. It was good to have someone to chat to for a change.

On we plodded up the track towards the summit of the climb, jogging every slight downhill and flat, or gentle uphill whenever the fancy took me. Chris was in walking mode for a while so he let me go too and I found myself alone again to enjoy the wide-open vistas across the moors as the sun struggled to shine. The northerly direction veered north-east and brought us to the descent to the final checkpoint, CP9 (27mi.).

A bit more food to keep the engine ticking over and I was off up the road then track to “Top of Stairs” on the final 5-mile stretch. The descent from Top of Stairs to Leeshaw Reservoir was laboured, to say the least, on tired legs and rocky track, then it was a quick up and over Penistone Hill to the finish. I had never done this route before, so thankfully a local recreational runner who had done the event many times who had just caught up with me was able to point me in the right direction.

The Final run down the cobbled street in Haworth was like a ‘parting of the ways’ as I sprinted (relatively speaking, you’ll understand) through the shoppers, past the busking Spanish guitarist, left down the slope, across the main road and down to the Community Centre for PB number 4 of the year. Then commenced getting on for three hours of tea drinking, eating and chatting. Those home made cakes were amazing and well deserving of their donations. They're the real reason why I do these events, of which I never tire.

Sorry for delaying your return home, Steve, and well done with your 7th place finish. Well done too to Jez for the win, by just three seconds?! It must have been a sprint to the death with 2nd placed Mark Palmer!

Many thanks to Brett, Keighley & Craven Athletics Club and all the marshals, helpers and caterers for a superb Hobble. I will be back. All my pictures of the day are here.

2 down, 10 to go .....

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