Sunday 21st November brought typical Wensleydale Wedge weather – cold, damp and breezy, with a temperature hovering just above freezing. Just like in previous years, the shower came down as sleet, then snow as I drove over the steep, narrow, twisting pass from Muker to Askrigg into the breaking Sunday dawn.
At registration, Askrigg Village Hall was crammed with the usual suspects and a few new faces, ready to sample the delights of Wensleydale one more time or for the first time. I noticed an army lad among the throng (he had “Army” printed on the back of his shirt and his severe haircut kinda confirmed it). It’s good to see military personnel using an LDWA event for the purposes of combining training with leisure (dare I say pleasure?). There can surely be no down side to such an arrangement.
Our military personnel past, present and future = honour, responsibility, respect, upstanding defenders of our freedom. You go wherever and do whatever your country asks of you. Your country salutes you.
The route, saturated and swilling from all the recent rains, undulated through ten checkpoints at Semer Water Bridge, Stalling Busk (near), Stake Edge and Side Well/Heck Brow/Knotts (ubiquitous 'Areas of Shake Holes'), Thoralby, Eshington Lane, Freeholders’ Wood, Low Thoresby, Castle Bolton and Heugh. The exceedingly wet conditions underfoot made it ‘interesting’ at times, while the sprinkling of icing sugar snow on the windy tops before Thoralby got us in the mood for winter. I missed taking a picture of it sadly, because I was too busy competing with the other runners around me and not wanting to lose any time. At this point I was just keeping up with a group of three women who had just caught up with me (not that I’m saying I get any more competitive because they’re women).
The usual swapping of places with other runners was going on as usual. Any runners in front were used as targets to aim for and haul back, usually after having overtaken me. Sometimes it worked if they tired, sometimes it didn’t. Army lad and his friend became the next targets after darting in and out of the halfway checkpoint at Thoralby while I loitered over a Marmite sandwich (which simply had to be done). I set off in pursuit towards the self clip checkpoint at Eshington Lane. As I joined the track out of Thoralby I began to hear the hysterical, high pitched yapping of a dog. Eventually, in the valley below me to the right I saw a group of sheep, hemmed in against the stream and fence and swerving backwards and forwards as the source of the yapping, a small white terrier, ran among them, snapping at their legs. The shameful owner was standing about a quarter mile away in the next field, whistling pathetically every so often while his mutt went about its sheep worrying unfettered. Nothing had changed by the time I had climbed over the brow of the next hill. With my farmer’s hat on now, I don’t know about shoot the dog. Shoot the owner as well, the useless, dilatory specimen.
A climb to the A684 on the outskirts of Aysgarth brought us to a short descent to the church, where Sunday Service was due to begin. The doors were open and the organ hummed quietly from within. Over the road bridge, the sharp right turn towards Freeholders’ Wood brought the familiar WW direction sign implying that runners and only one walker take part in the event. If you wonder what I’m on about, do the event next year and you’ll see what I mean.
Having navigated successfully the fields on the approach to Castle Bolton, I saw that my quarries had built up a bit of a lead and were already on the lane up to the castle. Once onto the lane I heard another barking dog, this time a bigger one. I looked to my right and saw a chocolate Labrador-type dog face-to-face with a sheep at the edge of a field. What is it with dogs and their sheep-worrying obsession? As the dog went from side to side, the sheep turned to face it at all times, standing its ground. Every so often it went to head-but the dog. The stand-off and barking continued as I climbed out of sight and earshot.
At the Castle Bolton checkpoint I grabbed a couple of orange segments to suck the life-giving juice out of them and, with bright orange 'gum shield', set off running westwards on that l-o-o-o-n-g, undulating track . As the miles passed beneath my feet I gradually overtook the three women with whom I had been running on and off for most of the event. On the approach to the trail bike practice area I saw my quarries again. I seemed to have gained on them a little. I wondered if I could catch them again before the finish if I pushed just a little harder. I tried my best, at which point I was suddenly overtaken quite comprehensively by another bloke, who had crept up silently from behind and sailed past effortlessly as if as if I was standing still. Where on earth did he get all that energy from at this stage in the event, when everybody is usually flagging?
Undeterred, I pushed as best I could over the new footbridge and got quite close to my targets on the next short sharp climb. Shortly before the final checkpoint a farmer to my left waited for me to run past before opening his gate to release his flock of sheep onto the fell. The three women were far enough behind (out of earshot by now) to not be inconvenienced by the crossing flock.
My targets were stubbornly out of sight now. The terrain did not allow a far enough view any more. I checked my watch as I approached the last checkpoint at Heugh. I had just exceeded the 4:04 I had taken to complete the whole event in 2008. Not to worry. It came as no surprise and I was not dispirited. I had been looking forward to the final 1.2-mile blast across the fields to the finish and all I wanted to do now was give it my all as if I were on for a PB anyway. I loved every second as I competed with myself, pushing the limits, lungs bursting and heart rate into the 180s.
I was happy with my final time of 4:22. It may have been 18 minutes outside my PB and I may not have reeled in my ultimate targets, but the outcome was a darned sight better than I managed at last weekend's Six Dales Circuit, and I didn't feel trashed by the effort this time.
The few pictures I took are here.