The race was a sell-out; the biggest crowd in my experience swarmed onto the little cobbled street in Haworth to await the start. The front of the crowd was out of sight halfway up the lane, giving them a nice head start. Race organiser Brett, who I assumed set us off, was also out of sight and inaudible. I was chatting to someone next to me when I suddenly became aware of massed movement in front up the hill. “Oh, we must have started. Best get moving then.”
We were ‘enjoying’ the one patch of drizzly clag to afflict the country as we ran up onto the moors and into the stiff breeze. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold and the sun did make an appearance later to make it quite warm. Before that, however, Top Withins was as cold, wet, windswept, enshrouded and desolate as it always was. The wet stone slabs that followed, intermittently forming the footpath over the moors, were as slippery and dangerous as they always were too.
Widdop Reservoir soon arrived, the newly ‘carpeted’ dam of last year appearing out of the cloud now with a healthy crop of grass. After Widdop on the long drag to Long Causeway, true to form my pace was dropping to one that I could sustain by the refuelling I had already started (as opposed to the early pace that is sustained by the fuel already stored). I began to get overtaken as running became more difficult and the plod set in. I can’t even claim ‘ultraplod’ yet because I’d only done 10 miles. Is everyone else affected the same way or is it just me? Jon Steele was one of the many to overtake: “I’d recognise that tattoo anywhere” came the comment as he caught me up on another Ultra in his year of consecutive Ultras.
The wind turbines at Long Causeway remained out of sight in the cloud. We left the road and hit the farm track and stile to the right off it into the pathless boggy fields to stumble parallel to the track before re-emerging onto it via another stile, to the sound of a gun ‘banging’ away. That was probably the warning to anyone who should dare to take the logical route straight down the track, as indicated on the map. I wonder if anyone who dared to take that logical option survived?
A descent and climb through more fields brought us to another farm track. The checkpoint arrived a little earlier than expected; it was at the end of the track at the top road junction instead of lower down at the turn-off from the lane. At 15 miles, this checkpoint offers the first substantial food. I repeated last year's strategy of a hot dog with ketchup and a doughnut for the road. I knew it might slow me down temporarily but past experience has shown me that it will pay dividends later on.
As we ran down the track after the checkpoint, Wendy Dodds came running up in the opposite direction. She said something but I didn’t hear what it was; I thought there had been an accident and she was running back to the checkpoint for help. Another runner came running back. I asked what was wrong. This time I understood; they had gone off route and they were running back to the checkpoint. I learned afterwards from Wendy that she had followed the wrong wall downhill to the right in the fields where we are diverted off the track for a while.
Underfoot conditions were the wettest, muddiest and greasiest I remember on this event. On the final descent into Todmorden I slipped and fell on some greasy cobbles, drawing blood from my right knee and leg. I wasted little time in crossing the main road and powering up the other side of the valley to Mankinholes where I knew medicament awaited. ;-)
Last year I found out after the event that whisky had been on offer at the Mankinholes checkpoint (19mi). I wasn’t going to miss out this time. When I arrived I saw half a bottle of Jura and a shot glass on its own table. Luke, aka ‘Mr B’ was doing us proud with some quality gear. How fortuitous that he doesn’t like whisky. With a handshake by way of introduction and words of gratitude for what I was about to receive, I took a couple of sips (only). I thought he might be taking some back home but it all went. Top bloke is Luke.
Stoodley Pike had been lost in cloud and was only beginning to appear after Mankinholes, where the sun had come out. Things got better from there as the cloud continued to recede. After the steep slog up to the Pike, the wind was very strong at the edge but it was from behind to blow us along almost too forcefully. However it soon reduced away from the edge. I was surprised to catch up with Mike D-H again at the left turn stile (I can’t remember when he last went ahead). I had told him about the efficacy of low dose Ibuprofen to combat muscle and tendon soreness after it has set in. He now had such soreness and had virtually ground to a halt. His mind now sullied and in a time of need, he was about to take his first performance-enhancing drug.
I continued ahead on the long descent to the next major road crossing at Hebden Bridge. Before the final descent a rainbow hung low over Heptonstall, our next target on the other side of the valley. The climb up was as tough as ever: just put one foot in front of the other and keep walking until the gradient eases sufficiently to begin running again. On the way up, like last year we passed Clive once again on his doorstep offering water and Jellybabies. I was sucking on another gel at the time and had to pass on his generosity, but plenty of others availed themselves gratefully.
Heptonstall on the other side.
Mike, now drugged up to the eyeballs with ‘I’s, breezed past me effortlessly near the summit before the final checkpoint. I tried to shuffle in his wake but it wasn’t happening. I had to watch him descend alarmingly quickly into the distance and out of sight.
I caught up with Andrew, aka Derby Tup at the final checkpoint at 27 miles, which came as a surprise. I had been running with him much earlier before he went ahead. He had had issues at the stile after Stoodley Pike where I had found Mike about to ‘succumb’. He recounted how he had stumbled off the stile and fallen to the ground, his whole body cramped up like never before. He had slowed down but amazingly was still going. I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have so much cramp, let alone keep going as well.
I pulled ahead of Andrew on the final climb towards Top of Stairs. However it wasn’t long before he, and Wendy who had finally caught up, breezed past. I watched them disappear quickly out of sight as I stumbled clumsily down the rocky, ankle-twisting track towards Leeshaw Reservoir. My legs were shot, not muscle soreness (I rarely get DOMS), just leaden and devoid of energy as usual. I had done all I could to fuel them and ease their discomfort, including taking two ‘I’s during the course of the day. There was no more I could do now except walk.
I walked some of the flat road but fortunately there was no-one else around to witness this lack of athleticism. There was slightly less shame in walking the uphill road towards Penistone Hill; it is quite steep after all. At the right turn I forced myself to run again, all the way up around the hill and down to the finish. There were plenty of walkers out who offered their friendly encouragement. My uphill shuffle, equivalent to a robust walk, must have looked pathetic. At times like that I aspire to be a proper jogger. By the final descent I made maximum use of gravity to tease out a half decent semblance of a run back to the school.
I romped home in 6:21, which was a minute or two slower than I managed last year – not bad I suppose after a month without running a step. The busted toe was a little sore but not sore enough to hold me back. It has just about recovered just in time for The Series. How lucky is that?
As always, many thanks go to Brett and his helpers for putting on such an excellent event whose ups, downs, terrain and runnability make it quite a toughie to begin the Runfurther series.
I took a handful of pictures.