Monday, 8 November 2010

Runfurther 2010 end-of-series party. 23/10/2010.

The weekend after the final race in the 2010 Runfurther series of ultra marathons saw the end-of-year party and prizegiving. The Runfurther team, I suspect mostly Karen MacDonald, organised a superb weekend in Hope, Derbyshire. Saturday's proceedings started with a 3-hour orienteering score event in the afternoon. The rain was offputting so the turnout may have been a little poor. I was the last to set off, which was a good move because that was the cue for the rain to ease off. With my map extract, tally and marker pen issued by Karen I was off, feeling a little like a headless chicken as I tried to orientate myself, decide how to get as many checkpoints as possible in the most efficient way possible, and work out where I needed to go to reach my first chosen checkpoint. I decided I needed to cross the main road from the pub and up the lane opposite.

This was only my third score event. The first one was a Dark & White event from the Pindale Outdoor Centre just up the road a few years ago, when I got back an hour late and lost all my points. The second was the Runfurther party from Ambleside a couple of years ago. Although it's supposed to be fun and no pressure, I can't help getting stressed by it because I cannot help being competitive, yet I cannot run and survive, make my brain work to read the map and compass and understand which direction I have to go. The eyes see but the brain fails to link everything together. Call it old age, or have too many brain cells been killed off by the passage of too much wine under the bridge. What? Hic!

Anyway, as I set off up the lane, confident of where I needed to go, two young female cyclists came towards me and asked which way to Hope. After a second for the brain to whir (accompanied if I'm not mistaken by a faint smell of burning) I thought to myself: “I know that”. I felt chuffed that I had familiarised myself with my surroundings so quickly. “Just go to the end and turn right”, I said confidently. Off they went. Then a voice from within suddenly screamed at me. “Oh NO! NOT RIGHT; LEFT!!” I had forgotten which way I had turned in to the pub carpark on my journey from Hope and I had already forgotten that I had crossed the main road from the pub. What an utter shambles. I was anything but orientated. I ran back down the road towards them and shouted several times but they didn't hear me. I'd just told them a pack of lies and sent them on a wild goose chase towards Sheffield. I hoped that they had more common sense than I had and they would realise the fundamental error in my defective verbal instruction that I had helpfully reinforced by gesticulation to the right, just to confirm that I knew my right from my left. Racked by guilt, I ran backwards and forwards feeling even more like a headless chicken to find the left turn I had been looking for, since I had now lost track of my position on that first lane. That set the tone for the afternoon.

A visit to a checkpoint was confirmed by writing down its 3-letter code on our tallies. As I bumbled, backtracked and floundered my way across the hills and valleys, my path crossed with others' paths as we followed our chosen routes. I found myself running with Sarah Rowell for a while. I knew where I was going at that point because it involved (for me) an out-and-back on familiar ground – part of the Long Tour Of Bradwell route. Sarah joined me having run down from the top of the hill on her quest to bag all of the checkpoints within the 3 hours. She dropped me on the next climb.

As I continued to head off on wrong headings (NE instead of SW, SE instead of NE, setting my compass SE instead of SW and backtracking from the right heading to the wrong heading because the compass said so – you name it, I made that mistake), I found my way to a checkpoint that wasn't there. After 5 minutes searching in vain and with a little over 10 minutes left before the 3 hours were up, I decided it must have been stolen, gave up searching and decided to head for base. Off I ran confidently and soon found myself on another section of the Long Tour Of Bradwell route. Something wasn't ringing true between my path and the one on the map. I was 90 degrees out again, off the map and heading towards Bamford, though I didn't know it at the time. Still, I recognised the path so I carried on because I felt committed. Ever been there?

Once out on the road I made the inspired guess to turn right. I asked of the first pedestrians I met the direction back to Hope. “To the end and turn right” was the reply. On my way I passed the station. Ah, right, time to apply my intelligence again. If that's the station (Hope station of course, what else?) and I need to turn right to Hope, I need to turn left to the finish. I turned left and started running towards Sheffield. Yes, you guessed it. ANOTHER navigational error. I can't even get it right on major A-roads. After a mile or two of not recognising the road I'd driven along a few hours earlier, it dawned on me that the station wasn't Hope station after all. It must have been the next one down the line (Bamford, but since it was off my 'maplet' I didn't know). I turned around, stressed and cursing my stupidity, to trudge all the way back to the pub in the rain (which had returned on cue, just to cement my self-misery) to give Karen back her marker pen 20-odd minutes late and see how many points I'd lost.

I was booked into the pub B&B for the night, so I wasted no time in checking-in and warming up in the shower ready for the evening's festivities. I might be the world's worst navigator under pressure but at least I'd got some exercise in that débâcle.

The bar was buzzing with ultra runners and their other halves by the 7pm 'Champagne' reception. We enjoyed a slideshow of images from the year's races over drinks, conversation and dinner (and what a fantastic spread the caterers laid on for us). All the prizes and presentations were made to the series winners, some of whom unfortunately couldn't be there due to other commitments. Next came what we had all been waiting for – the talk and slideshow from Stephen Pyke of his Scottish Munro-bagging record earlier this year. Spyke smashed the previous record of 48 days and 12 hours by completing the challenge in 39 days and 9 hours in spite of unseasonably cold and snowy weather for its duration up to the beginning of June. In addition to climbing the 283 peaks, he had to run, cycle and kayak between them. He raised a laugh when he said in all seriousness that he never considered himself to be an ultra runner. Spyke, if you weren't before you are now ;-)

The evening began its wind-down with the cutting and consumption of the Runfurther cake – the best one so far – a rich fruit number that wasn't too sickly and went wonderfully with a double brandy. Everyone had dispersed by midnight and I staggered upstairs to my waiting bed.

On Sunday a few hardy souls mountain biked or ran a few miles in the hills in bright sunshine to put the shine on a most excellent weekend, while Yours Truly made an early exit home up Winnats Pass to catch up with the weekend's chores. Thanks Karen for organising a fantastic climax to the 5th Runfurther year. Bring on 2011. I only took a handful of pictures in the evening (sorry).

Next year's provisional races were mentioned, but since they are not yet finalised I have been asked not to publicise them. We must wait before we commit ourselves. There's still plenty of time anyway.


  1. Brilliant write up Nick, very funny.

    Ever thought of trying a mountain marathon? You sound like a natural=)

  2. Funnily enough Steve, the idea of a mountain marathon has never grabbed me. You might have guessed. Having to carry my house, bed, kitchen, food and everything else required for survival on my back, magic myself between improbable locations in the most hideous weather conditions across the most hideous terrain and survive, may have something to do with it.

  3. Great stuff Nick - you have inspired mke to be there next year. Edward