Putting Monday's little surprise to one side, move back two days to Rombald's Stride. Based at a junior school in Guiseley, this event is one of my favourites. It was my 11th consecutive year. There's always an eclectic mix of participants from the walkers looking forward to a leisurely stroll and a return in the dark in 10 hours plus, to the super-fit racers who complete in 3 hours and not a lot of change. It guarantees an annual social occasion and a reunion of friends from my earliest walking days to newer running acquaintances, some only just met on the FRA forum.
At 08:45 we began our single file procession outside along the passageway to the grassed start area in front of the now-completed trendy apartments. The damp, foggy conditions set the scene for the day (I had left home under a clear starlit sky).
At 09:00 the shaking of a hand bell sent a mass of runners heading for the two gaps in the wall, across the main road (the traffic was halted for us) and towards the first bottleneck and chance for a breather from the sprint start. Runners jogged along 'in the zone' through Esholt village and on to Check Point 1 at Tong Park. This is the bucket drop. I'd stashed my tag safely in the small pocket of my bumbag but could I find it? Could I 'eckers like. Off came the gloves so I could feel more easily. Still no sign. I felt like a girly with her handbag as I emptied the contents to locate the missing plastic disc that I KNEW was there, because I'd put it there. The marshal wrote my number on her hand instead. Her hand was already half full with numbers, so I wasn't the only one.
I was already burning up after these first 2.5 miles so I seized the opportunity to remove a layer while runners continued to stream past. I'd wasted far too much time so early on, but now properly cooled I had renewed energy and I was soon overtaking again.
After CP3 at Baildon Moor trig point I'd planned to be clever and head on a compass bearing to CP4 at the road junction. Mistake! I ran blind into the fog, leaving the other runners to do the right thing. I drifted too far right as I bashed my way off-piste down to the road, which I knew was the wrong one because I was hearing too much traffic on it. I turned left and left again on the road I should have been on, back up to the checkpoint. I had envisaged a visual descent. My compass bearing of 'NW' was obviously not precise enough. More minutes squandered.
I found myself alone, veiled in a clammy white shroud as I plodded on through the horse gallops to CP5, Weecher. I caught up with an old walking friend here. It had been a long time and we chatted for a bit before I went ahead on a lonely, isolated ascent onto Bingley Moor. The loneliness was broken for a while as I heard the breathing of another runner slowly closing from behind, then a rather fit looking (in both senses of the word) lady runner overtook me and gradually vanished into the wall of whiteness. I was alone again, looking out for recognisable landmarks beside the path and hoping I was on the right one. I'd been here before so I was pretty confident. The sight of the Twelve Apostles stone circle to my right confirmed it.
Shortly I was at CP6, Lanshaw Lad (Boundary Stone), self-clipped and on my way across the partially frozen bogs to CP7, Whetstone Gate. Those bogs were entertaining. All were wet, some with lots of surface water, yet mostly frozen underneath. Most of the time you could run across the most dodgy-looking terrain without a problem, but sometimes a very shallow puddle would break without warning and instantly become a very deep puddle, with sharp edges added to create an added frisson of danger. Sometimes I found myself 'walking on water', feet in a very large puddle that's too big to jump across, yet hovering several inches above a perfectly clear image of peat and clumps of grass below. Somehow I felt that keeping my knees bent would reduce my weight and prevent it breaking. Usually it worked. There's nothing like fell running for getting the adrenaline flowing, in more ways than one.
After CP7 I attempted an alternative route – turn right down the old route towards Ilkley Bottom while looking out for a trod to the left that promised to be firmer underfoot. I eventually reached the trod after what seemed like too long, but it forked left rather than turned left. I bottled out of pioneering a new route alone across the moors in the fog and climbed back up the track to the wall, where with even more minutes squandered I turned right to continue the entertaining 'dice with death' across the puddles with their tenuous sub-surface crusts and indeterminate depths.
I survived the crossing and was joined by a group of runners as we descended, across the big trampoline of a rippling bog beside Rombald's Moor that wasn't doing its stuff this year (deep frozen) to CP8, Piper's Gate. Someone was taking our pictures as we 'flew' down the fellside.
Even though we had barely done 12 miles I was already slowing down with increasingly heavy legs. It always happens around this point. I'd been eating at the checkpoints but I needed more. I sucked on a couple of energy gels as I plodded the gentle downhill to CP9, Ilkley Bottom, getting overtaken by more runners as I went.
More food at CP9 provided good fuelling for the next climb up towards Rocky Valley. The section from the top of Rocky Valley around the edge of Ilkley Moor in the fog confused some people, who went walkabout in all directions. For once, my navigation went perfectly. Recollections from the past ten years got me onto the path to the self clip at Coldstone Ghyl then down to CP11, Burley Woodhead, in the most efficient way possible.
From there came the crossing of Menston and a few main roads to the foot of The Chevin. The final, brutally steep climb via the self clip at CP12 had everyone trudging very slowly, with the exception of a lady who was obviously in a different league to the rest of us at that point. She had got lost and now found herself overtaking the comparative slowcoaches among whom she had found herself. She was soon out of sight. The gradient eased as we forked left in the woods. How different they looked compared to last year's snow, blue sky & sunshine scene. (See above and compare with this from last year.
CP13, Yorkgate Quarry, was the last checkpoint, with 1.6 miles of (mostly) downhill to the finish. I would like to say that I gave it all I had and blasted down to the finish, leaving others standing and languishing in my splashed mud as I raced past them to a triumphant sub-4 finish. However that's not my style – far too rude. In reality I plodded down to the finish, inviting anyone in the vicinity to overtake me (as if I had a choice), to a 4:08 finish, which frankly is amazing. Despite the good 10 minutes I must have wasted, it's still a PB by 4 minutes for the new route. Perhaps a sub-4 may come back to me next year. Oh, and by the way, of course I gave it all I had; it's just that I don't have a lot to give.
I went on a belated search for the elusive plastic disc. It was stuck between mobile phone and sleeve, which was in my bumbag pouch. So it WAS there like I knew it was. I was able to hand it in after all.
Rombald's Stride was very well organised, as always. I was impressed by the number of marshals at important road/footpath junctions to guide and protect us, all the checkpoints and the food. I spent the usual hour or two chatting over the post-race meal and tea.
I took a few pictures again.
On the drive home as I descended the M62, I emerged from the fog into the setting sun. It had been a sunny day back home in the west.
Postscript: I recall no foot soreness during or after this event.