Developments sort of ran away with themselves last week. I was just about back to normal movement on the fractured foot with no discomfort, even in bare feet. My knee continued to complain while sitting or descending stairs but my sports physio (Tim Deykin of Sport-Med in Stockport is top notch and really knows his stuff) told me that exercise is absolutely essential to rebuild strong tendons. As long as there is no sharp pain, it’s good. Exercise with discomfort is part of a good and proper repair process.
Some tape across my kneecap to keep it pulled to one side and a sanction from Tim on Friday made my mind up for me. The Calderdale Hike 2010 was to be my surprise comeback event. I’d seen the gorgeous forecast for the weekend and I had a perfected route etched in my mind and printed out on 8 sides of A4. Stuff the fact that I’d had virtually no exercise for nine weeks, I could not miss this opportunity. All I had to do was add another two hours onto last year’s time and use that as my new target.
And so I arrived at Sowerby at 7:30am, full of anticipation and excitement. Greetings and encouraging words were had in the carpark even before I made it into the cricket club for more of the same. Oh the joy of being at an event venue girding my loins to take part instead of observing and envying others gird theirs. I did have slight misgivings about 36 miles in Calderdale not being ideal as a comeback event after a nine-week lay-off, but beggars can’t be choosers. It was this or nothing. All I could do was monitor all systems and pull out if things became too painful. There were plenty of checkpoints to do so if it really came to it.
On the stroke of 9am we runners (I use that term in a loose sense for myself) were sent on our way, most of them towards the main entrance but a few of us ‘in the know’ in the opposite direction to a rear snicket on the first of my ‘route optimisations’. Mark Hartell was in the lead, loping down the road into the distance with me in second place (ho yes!), that is until the other proper runners who went the long way round caught up and overtook me on the downhill towards the railway (for me) and canal (for everyone else).
I plodded from checkpoint to checkpoint in the calm air and warm sunshine with my heart racing at up to 180bpm. This was to be expected for one so unfit. It would be a long day of survival tactics. My main aim was to get as far as possible without wrecking myself. I had plenty of breathers to take pictures and refuel at the checkpoints (nice sandwiches). My slower pace meant that I ate more than usual. It was a linear al fresco buffet.
I found myself alone by the approach to Widdop Reservoir, most of the runners having long vanished into the distance. I walked most of my way up that road to a nice welcome at the checkpoint near the dam. After Widdop I took another optimised route to the left side of Cant Clough Reservoir. Looking behind I noticed Malcolm Coles had the same idea as he was slowly catching me up. He knew all the best lines too. That line helped me to catch up with Mike and Yvonne, who proved to be excellent partners for the remainder of the event. It is not often I get to do an event in company like that. It was very nice.
Our climb up the many false summits to the top of Thieveley Pike was very slow in the heat. I was looking forward to a bit of breeze on the top but there wasn’t any. The wind turbines below in the distance, which we had passed two checkpoints ago, stood still in the stagnant air. Malcolm disappeared into the distance from here, never to be seen again (he’s one amazing man with what he can still do into his seventies).
The grubbiest and most run-down section of the route began on the approach to Heald Top Farm (a partially flooded, litter-strewn, derelict-looking dump) and past the edge of Todmorden Moor to Checkpoint 9 at Slatepit Hill. It reminded me of parts of the Round Rotherham. It was sad to see out in the middle of the countryside.
At Checkpoint 10 (Foul Clough Road) we had a nice lecture from one of the marshals on the good all this sun was doing us and how our bodies would be making all this good vitamin D. She must have been reading Doctor Mercola's website. I was certainly feeling the goodness of being out there, although my foot had become worryingly uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be feeling this; I didn’t want to crack the bone again. It became a toss-up over whether the knee or the foot slowed me down the most on the down-hills. (My general lack of fitness had slowed me down everywhere else.)
I shuffled my way onwards through Dean Royd Bridges and Lumbutts (seen here in more impressive detail) up to Stoodley Pike then down the other side (sorry to hold you up on that descent, Mike and Yvonne) to Withens Clough Reservoir and through the 15th and final checkpoint at Shaw's Lane. A few more runners overtook us as we went. I know Yvonne could have blasted off into the distance down that final stretch of road but she waited for Mike and me so we could finish as a threesome. Thanks Yvonne; we enjoyed your company and your graciousness.
Our time of 8:46 was within my 9-hour target, so I was satisfied. I knew the 7 hours of last year was an outright impossibility even if my knee and foot were miraculously better. I was relieved to be able to walk in bare feet at the finish, which I take to mean I hadn’t re-broken the bone. However it is remaining tender. I hope my comeback hasn’t become a setback.
The knee seems to have thrived on the exercise. It has improved since its right good seeing to and telling who’s boss. My untrained calves and quads, on the other hand, are suffering from severe DOMS. I struggle to get around, but I’m not worried because I know they will be better and stronger again by next weekend. Pain is good. Bring it on!
I was a bit snap-happy because I had time to spare. The best of the pictures are here in glorious slideshow form (mostly proof that I visited every checkpoint and didn’t cheat – as if I could anyway on the Calderdale Hike).
I must thank the organisers and army of volunteers on this event. It has changed for the better over the years. There are fewer restrictive rules, there are loads of checkpoints providing decent substantial food (individually bagged sandwiches, no less!) and there’s loads of friendly support all the way round to the finish, where more substantial food is on offer to recharge the batteries good and proper. They really need to do something about the gnat’s-piss tea, though. A few more teabags wouldn’t go amiss and shouldn’t cost the Earth ;-)