Although billed as 24 miles, the Anglezarke Amble comes out at 25 miles give or take, when plotted out on Tracklogs.
With the exception of 2010 when a broken metatarsal denied me, I have done this event every year since 2000. (Coincidentally, this year I was probably sporting a broken little toe on the same foot after catching it violently four days earlier, but that's another story.) Finishing times have varied wildly, due mainly to the wild variation in conditions at this time of year. The route changed in 2004, which lengthened times a little. My PB is 4:07 in 2009. As always I was hoping to improve on that. 2012 could be the year, since I was expecting good conditions with frozen ground and no mud, just like last weekend. Ha! Oh innocent child that I am.
There had been freezing rain on Thursday, which had quickly melted. Since then the temperature had fallen again. Nothing could have prepared me for what remained at higher altitudes. I had taken my Kahtoola micro spikes with me, but when I arrived at an ice-free Rivington I did not bother to hang them onto my backpack. That would prove to be a massive error of judgement.
We were sent on our way as usual by Nigel Dean of West Lancs LDWA. As we ran up the road, another runner's footsteps sounded strange. I joked that they sounded like snow tyres. As it turned out, they were in effect. He was wearing the Inov-8 shoes with the metal dobs in the studs. Ian Charters said that we'd need such grip enhancement as soon as we got onto the hill. I should have turned around there and then to fetch the Kahtoolas. It would only have lost me 5 minutes at that early stage in the game.
Walk, don't run
We hit the first sheet ice within the first mile as we climbed through the Chinese gardens. Trying to find ground without the varnished sheen that would become ubiquitous, and only being able to walk, soon began to haemorrhage time. I immediately forgot about a PB this year. I thought back 40 years to my junior school days and the echo of a teacher shouting across the quadrangle: “Walk, don't run”. That early education would prove valuable today. I was thankful for having worn leg cover this time (most unusual for me), since the gnawing cold and slower pace meant that I would need the extra warmth.
Piste & glazed
Climb to Rivington Pike.
Glass & tinkle
Descending the Pike wasn't too bad down the grassy hill, though the frozen rutted terrain was not kind to anyone with fragile ankles. Winter Hill with Checkpoint 1 was negotiated without too much trouble. Here our ears were first treated to the sound that would become very familiar throughout the day – the delicate tinkle as each stride launched the thickly encrusted marsh reeds into a thousand glass-like splinters (see top photo). Again I was thankful for full leg cover.
Ice road teeterers
The ice road.
Wimp out left or straight on at the split point.
Stick the boot in
The climb from the A666 towards Turton Heights saw the first refrozen snowfields; they were effectively aerated ice. To achieve a relatively safe crossing I kicked my heels in with each stride as I ran across. There was still just enough trapped air to allow enough imprint to give some grip.
We had long since realised that nothing could be trusted. Anything that looked wet, wasn’t. Even rutted mud patches were in reality glazed hard and offered zero traction. Any piece of exposed vegetation was searched out for trampling because it gave us the only grip.
Checkpoint 3 offered, as always, a superb range of food to fuel us for a long day out. We’d need it today. However it appeared a little sooner than expected; it was down on the road at the end of the Turton and Entwistle Reservoir dam instead of up at the camping barn. I soon realised why. The road ahead was covered with ice, giving no chance for any vehicle to pass.
As I approached the Strawberry Duck pub I almost gave up. The road was glazed thickly from edge to edge, with not even an inch of grip to be had. I stood unsteadily in John Wayne pose clinging onto a rickety garden fence, wondering how I could possibly make my way across this latest hazard that stretched out of sight around the corner. Another runner breezed past wearing micro spikes. I lusted after them and kicked myself for the 100th time for leaving mine back in the Hall.
I feared for the fence as I minced my way forwards, feet flying off uncontrollably in all directions. If I’d really lost it the fence would have gone down with me, since it was on its last legs. Weren’t we all? On the climb back up to the A666 I was amazed at how others were overtaking me even though they were not enjoying the luxury of grip enhancement.
Climbing the track from the A666 and Cadshaw Farm brought us past the big stack of giant Weetabix on the right that has been amalgamating over the years. It was once heavy duty chipboard, but each year that passes makes it look more appetising. I always look forward to reacquainting myself with this delicacy in the visual sense. Give it a few more years and I may be tempted to sample it a little more closely. I’ll consider taking along some semi-skimmed next year.
We continued to seek out whatever grip we could on the fringes, sometimes in the centre of the track. Crossing between the two was always hazardous. A chap in front slipped over. We offered to help him up but he felt safer standing up of his own accord, since he had more chance of exerting force vertically downwards through his feet and not falling down again. He was left with a sore ankle which hopefully was short lived. We checked that he was alright before we carried on.
Drunken staggers, slips and stumbles had become a familiar sight. Most spills occurred when, in the absence of vegetation, ‘wet mud’ was chosen for the next foot plant. It was invariably more treacherous than the flat ice, since it was usually sloping and it offered minimal contact area. Barbed wire fences offered convenient hand holds, since their thick coating of ice had rendered them safe to grip firmly.
I noticed that my water bottle nozzle was clogging up with ice and denying me my regular fix of electrolyte. Another runner remarked that her bladder tube was in a similar condition. The frigid air continued to do its worst.
The climb onto Darwen Moor and the regular detours through the rough brought safer passage and more tinkling, now augmented by the crunching of the ice already broken off by the previous passers-by. The stile at the top of the moor looked wet but, as always, was draped in icicles, encased in shiny danger and friction free. You were safe only if you let gravity exert its influence through it and force was perpendicular to the surface. This invariably required a slow, relaxing sit-down on the top mid crossing. It was cold but dry.
Sit down and rest awhile to avoid injury.
The run down, up, down and up to Darwen Tower proved to be dangerous for many. I was lucky, having my only fall on the initial run down when my feet flew out from under me and I landed on my back, bashing my right elbow, left hand and hitting the right side of my head on the ground, while the bottle from my right hand went spinning down the path. I lay there dazed for a few seconds to see if anything pained me unduly. I slowly stood up to test a little further. I was clumsy and punch drunk and I suddenly had a headache. I picked up the bottle and staggered on down the track waiting for this new sensation to pass. I let my right arm dangle because it pained too much to lift up my forearm. Fortunately the symptoms were only temporary and I was able to function almost normally within ten minutes.
On the final approach to Darwen Tower now with its hat back on, the same thing happened to another runner. In trying to find safe ground to walk on (note, she wasn’t even running) her feet flew out from under her and she landed on her back on a lump of ground with a loud cry of anguish. I turned around and cringed as she sat there holding her head. A couple of us who were close by picked our way across the path to her as quickly as we dared to check the damage, fearing the worst. Mercifully there was no visible damage. A careful check confirmed that it was probably shock more than injury that caused the outcry. There were many such displays of care and compassion through the day, which I thought was touching. We were all in it together and looking out for each other.
Darwen Tower with a new hat.
The run from Checkpoint 4 at Darwen Tower down to Checkpoint 5 at Slipper Lowe was less eventful. Safe grip was available for the majority of the leg. We could pick up a bit of speed for the first time all day. Some cloth stuck rigidly to the fence near Slipper Lowe, encased in its own straight jacket of ice. (It was most likely a dropped garment long since rescued from the ground by a well-meaning passer-by and tied to the fence.) CP5 provided our second opportunity for a good feed. I did not linger for long because I was beginning to smell the finish and I was enjoying the novelty of running.
Over dinner back in the Hall we exchanged stories from the day. Various injuries were on view. One poor chap had a dislocated shoulder and would soon be off to casualty to get it put back in place. I helped him to change before his journey to the repair shop. I hope he’s now well into recovery. The same goes to everyone else who may have come a cropper. I felt very fortunate that my concussion was only transient, with no lasting effect.....
What an experience though, never to be repeated. Here are some of the pictures I took.