This event from Barley Village Hall, at the foot of Pendle Hill, provided a welcome reminder of the simple, low-key, no-pressure grass roots LDWA events on which I built myself up and challenged myself for ten years before Mark Hartell instigated the Runfurther series, tempting me to move up to a whole new level of competition and speed. (Speed? Ha, that’s a joke. LDWA events are the only ones where I can enjoy a top half finish.) It was staffed by warm, welcoming OAPs and stocked with gorgeous home-made cakes. It was my first such event in a very long time and it was good to get reacquainted with walking friends of old.
The final grotty day had been forecast before the arrival of an Indian summer as a weakening weather front moved across ever so slowly. It drizzled intermittently though not enough to warrant waterproofs. A thin technical long-sleeved top was all I needed to keep myself warm. (Shorts, shoes and socks are assumed, before you ask, and I did have the necessary wherewithal in my bum bag in case of an ‘eventuality’.)
I said the event was no pressure. The only pressure was what I imposed upon myself to run as fast as I dared without blowing up. It was only 20 miles so I deemed it safe to ‘let it rip’ more than usual. I imagined I was in a fell race as I ran up Pendle Hill into the cloud and down the other side near the front of the pack (how I love these LDWA events). The mud and water underfoot were luxuriant like I hadn’t known since last year. It was just like the old times of mucky winter LDWA events that leave you with the most magnificent leg encrustations with which to impress the neighbours upon your return home when you emerge from your car. I do enjoy a mucky weekend.
Did I say no pressure? There’s more. The route description contains a few inaccuracies and ambiguities to keep us guessing, so navigating successfully is a challenge. Our route took us up past Lower and Upper Ogden Reservoirs before turning right up the left-hand side of the clough to the summit of Pendle Hill. (There was mention of “dough” a few times in the description. I wondered if it might have been a strange local colloquialism for a small valley, but no, nothing so esoteric. More likely is spell checker never having heard of a clough. For a while a sheep 'fell in' behind, running along the path before finally thinking better of running 20 miles and veering off to the left.
A sheep has joined in.
From checkpoint 1 I crossed Pendle Road, climbed over the stile and descended a few yards. A couple of runners who had overtaken me while I faffed with my footwear were standing ahead trying to work out where to go. Their predicament rang the first of many bells with me from 5 or 6 years ago so I did not continue descending to join them. The route description says: “Go down bank and turn R at FP sign for Hecklin”. There was no footpath sign visible along the path we were on. I looked up to my right to see a multi-way fingerpost at the top of the bank. I climbed up to it. Sure enough, there was the “FP sign for Hecklin”. I called the others over and set off running across the fields and climbing the wall stiles between them towards checkpoint 2 on Twiston Road. The “ruin” on the way is now a posh refurbishment and fully occupied.
As I ran along the route I was amazed how much of it came back to me from when I last ran it in 2005 and 2006. I made many mistakes then. You always remember the mistakes. Nevertheless there was still a significant incident that lost a few of us 5 minutes or more. It was only my instinct that made me run back in the correct direction along the lane to where checkpoint 5 proved to be; the route description had been making no sense.
Runners were few and well spread out. However I found myself running with Ken and Jenny and two others for some of the time, sharing the navigation as we went. In the final fields and descent towards the finish, more bog waited to ensnare. It tried once again to steal my left shoe but I was going sufficiently slowly by this stage to stop with only my heel out before my forefoot followed it. Pain ensued once again. “If that metatarsal is cracked I shall be most vexed”, I thought to myself. I was only able to release the suction with a satisfying sound by repeatedly trying to flex my forefoot upwards, after which I could lift out the heel of my shoe, not just my heel. I’ve not had mud experiences like these in years. I couldn't help smiling.
Even though these LDWA events are not supposed to be competitive, runners can’t help half racing each other to the finish. I know I did. I gave it all I had to lead the group along the track past Whitehough Outdoor Centre to the car park then road to the village hall. I was working the hardest I'd done all day and had to roll up my sleeves to aid cooling. That would have been when my heart rate hit 185bpm. (Well, the track was flat and I didn't have gravity to help me now). Five of us (I think) finished within a minute of each other in 3:57 with a great sense of achievement and a job well done. Then it was soup & bread and tea & cakes as we reminisced.
For anyone planning on doing this next year, here are a few more nuggets:
The “metal gate” you turn right through between CP2 and CP3 is actually wooden. It always has been since I’ve done this event.
A couple of “main roads” are no such thing. They are country lanes. That wrong description led me horribly astray in 2005 as I continued across fields and over stiles waiting for the main road to appear. I finally found it when I arrived at the A6068, way off the map.
After CP5 when you have climbed the stile into the field, you take a diagonal RIGHT, not left.
Before CP7 the sentence should read: “In the last field bear R downhill towards white buildings in far distance...….”
After CP7 the sentence should read: “Cross field and take L (upper) fork in wood.”
The last sentence should read: “After you cross the bridge turn L along unmade road back to Barley.”
Why do the gate springs have to be so strong?