Monday, 30 April 2012

The Fellsman 61mi. / >11,700'. 28-29/04/2012.

Race 3 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.

The Gragareth marshal is always so cheerful. Like!

This tough and rugged 61-mile fell race with over 11,700 feet of ascent that climbs most of the peaks in a large horseshoe route between Ingleton and Threshfield is sponsored by The North Face, this being the second year of sponsorship. This newfound prestige status added to its being part of the Runfurther Ultra Running Championships ensured that some elite talent was there to compete. The entry limit of 500 was filled, with a waiting list on top of that. (The fact that it was the event's 50th anniversary may have had something to do with its popularity this year as well.) It was the biggest ever field in its history. That's pretty amazing when, in 2003 when I first ran it, entries were so low that the event's viability was being called into question. This would be my 6th running of the event formerly known as the Fellsman Hike because, in the old days everyone hiked it with big heavy boots. These days, lean, mean, technically attired runners are to the fore, so it's now known simply as "The Fellsman".

The 50th Fellsman will go down in history. I'll cut to the chase. For the time ever, with many retirements through hypothermia, vomiting, sprains and one airlifted to hospital, the decision was taken to abandon the event at 01:41 on Sunday for the safety of participants and the staff due to extreme cold and wind chill. Having got through the final roadside checkpoint (Park Rash) with Kevin, Mike and Paul (the three other members of my night group) before the abandonment and been able to get a finish time, I can attest to the extreme conditions throughout. The decision by event organiser Suzanne Carter was absolutely the right one, and it also meant that everyone was off the hills safe and warm before the rain came. That was the bonus.

If it wasn't for the low temperature and gale it would have been a beautiful day and night, with sunshine by day, clear views and no cloud to plague the tops; but THAT WIND. It was already strong at lower altitudes by Saturday morning. It was gale force on the tops. It built up from there through the day and into the night.

Then there was the temperature. It was a beautiful warm spring day in the valleys if you could find complete shelter from the wind, but low ambient temperature combined with extreme wind chill made it challenging anywhere else. It could only get colder as dusk approached. Night-time was something else again.

Climbing to Ingleborough.

We ran (or attempted to run) into the North Easterly gale for the majority of the day and night. If it wasn't head on it was side on. There was no escaping it; it was incessant. At high or low altitude, we staggered around like drunkards, constantly correcting to regain control and get back on the course the next footstep was supposed to take. Well into the night on the final peak (Great Whernside) it was imposible to stand up. To avoid getting blown over it became necessary to 'run' across the bouldery terrain while crouching, crabbing sideways and leaning into the gale. When a gust still blew us violently off course we had to stop instantly to regain control, readopt the intended direction of travel and start again very carefully. The checkpoint officials' tent was tucked down in a hollow between boulders beside the trig point, but even so it was getting blown violently. It remained firmly zipped closed with no sign of visible entry until they heard us call out to get our tallies punched. The temperature was below freezing and the mud and water were turning hard and crunchy under our feet. My water bottle nozzle froze. My eyeballs burned in the icy blast, and that was with the protection of spectacles. People without glasses or with contact lenses fared far worse. Times like these reinforce the strict kit and grouping rules on this event. They are necessary for the safety of all. Even with those kit rules, the fact that so many were forced to retire attests to the severity of the conditions.

Naturally, everyone's times were slower than usual. Even Jez was around an hour slower than his record time of last year, which is proof of the tough conditions. He still won though. Well done Jez. Nicky Spinks was the female winner, to add yet another tough win to her long list. Ultra-running studs, the both of them.

My night-time grouping with Kevin, Mike and Paul could not have been better, with great camaraderie as always. They stayed strong, keeping up a strong walk / shuffle and occasional jog to the end (and they let me do the navigating, which was nigh on perfect even though I say so myself). Dawn was just beginning to break and the first blackbirds were beginning to sing as we descended into Grassington and finally out of THAT WIND. We collapsed onto the chairs at the finish and were immediately offered cups of tea by waitress service to begin the recovery process. What an event, what support, what organisation. The care and attention to detail shine through and we appreciate it so much. Thank you Suzanne and your army of willing, cheerful unpaid volunteers.

Our time of a little over 19:30 was very pleasing, when earlier as I'd been haemorrhaging time checkpoint by checkpoint, a sub-20 finish was beginning to look unachievable.

Because I finished the event later than usual and the abandonment meant that the orgainsers were ready to 'shut up shop' earlier than usual, I only managed 40 fitful winks before having to depart (too much talking to be done, which takes top priority of course). Luckily I made the car journey home safely without incident (to find the wheelie bins blown around the garden), after which I enjoyed 6 hours' sound sleep.

The killer turkey on the descent to Stonehouse.

Artengill Viaduct built in 1875.

From the top of Great Knoutberry.

First peak Ingleborough is still visible from Snaizeholme Fell.

As an interesting aside, all decency and decorum fall by the wayside on a challenging Ultra as all efforts are directed towards surviving the here and now and ensuring that you get to the finish in one piece:
- Burping, farting, grunting, groaning, sniffing and coughing (there seemed to be a lot of coughing) as you try to ingest that next gel to keep the engine fuelled while trying to run, hoping the slight nausea is because you want to burp and nothing more sinister.
- Cold wind that makes your eyes constantly water, rendering vision useless for that next technical descent off Ingleborough. Your eyes' drainage channels ensure that your nose streams constantly. A top lip that is constantly wet and having to be wiped for a day and a night can become quite sore. I became accustomed to the sight of the spray in my headtorch beam as I blew the drainage product from my top lip.
- Snot rocketing (more accurately, salt spraying) when constant sniffing and leaving shiny deposits on your gloves is no longer enough.
- Strong icy winds are perfect snot harvesters; they manufacture it for you then suck it out of you by the Bernoulli effect.
- I won't mention having a pee against a wall. Trying to find it with thickly gloved hands through multiple layers of life-maintaining technical attire was one thing, taking care to aim downwind was another, but having turbulence from the gale atomise it into thousands of droplets, some of which find their way back onto your face is a third thing I did not need. I think the saying is E-e-e-w-w.

Because so many were unable to get a finish time I don't see how Runfurther points can be awarded for this one. Only to award them to those who were quick enough to get a finish time before the abandonment will deny those who were not, while on the other hand it would be unfair to deny those hard-earned points, especially to winners Jez and Nicky. I'm sure the Runfurther team will sort something out that's fair.

Photographs are now uploaded! I'm afraid snapping stopped at dusk in the interests of survival.

Grough wrote a good report that really brings it home.

SportSunday were out taking their usual excellent crop of photographs.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Kinder Downfall fell race ~10mi. 22/04/2012.

That’s more like it, eventually. After an inauspicious outing at the Woodbank Parkrun on Saturday, where my red-lining 24:13 was over a minute slower than when I last ran it in January, I ran the third fell race (also my third) in the Hayfield Championship series on Sunday and pleasantly surprised myself.

The scout hut at Hayfield was heaving with a capacity turn-out. I got my number then cast glances at the race instructions that were pinned up around the walls. I was suddenly struck by a sick lump (as opposed to a lump of sick) to the back of my throat. There was a compulsory kit list:

Full windproof body cover (waterproof advised) – tick;
Hat – tick;
Gloves – tick;
Map – oh cr*p;
Compass – cr*p again;
Whistle – sick lump to throat.

I didn’t have a map, whistle or compass, which I knew I didn’t need since this is only a short outing for three hundred runners playing follow-the-leader along marshalled, well-used footpaths, trails and trods. However I did have food, drink and a survival bag, which I deemed more important in case of a bonk (low blood sugar level renders anyone useless and mishap-prone), or physical incapacity, but these were not on the list.

As the sick realisation dawned on me that I was going to be denied a start for no valid reason in my opinion, BarnyC appeared. I explained my predicament. With barely more than half an hour to go to the 11:30 start and without batting an eyelid, he offered to drive back to his home (not too far thankfully) to get a spare map and compass so I could pass muster. (He also fetched himself a pair of gloves in the process but I won't tell anyone.) He made it back with five minutes to spare. Barny, I owe you big time. I hope I can return the favour some day soon. I still might not have had a whistle but if push came to shove and by hook or by crook I’d get a tone out of my bum-bag buckle to alert the streams of runners passing by so they didn’t step on me by mistake.

[I may have 16 years’ experience of equipping myself appropriately per event from 1 mile to 111 miles, sometimes over exposed and hostile terrain in vile conditions with never a dodgy moment or mishap, and this may be a short outing compared to what I’m used to but this was a ‘medium’ race by FRA standards, which carries certain rigid kit requirements. I’d scanned all the available race information and saw no kit requirements. I’d neglected to recognise the fact that FRA rules would be assumed. I haven’t yet fully acquainted myself with this fact, since “fell races” as opposed to races on the fells are still relatively new to me. They may be inflexible but ‘rules is rules’ and if I’m going to be doing more of these “fell races” I really must 'wise up' and pack a permanent bag with all the essential kit rather than select the kit as I think appropriate for each race based on distance, terrain, route knowledge and weather forecast. This will avoid any future nasty surprises at registration (as opposed to out on the fells). I’m not used to this fell-racing lark. ;-)]

After our race briefing and with Barny’s map and compass safely stowed in my bum-bag to guide the way, the sizeable crowd was sent on its way up the lane and track towards the white shooting hut (which I recall was my last checkpoint on Kinder Trial in January) then down towards William Clough. The latest shower had died away but Kinder Scout remained hidden in cloud. We ran in single file. The path was one pair of feet wide; there was no overtaking. I was thankful for being held back a tiny smidgen because it prevented me from overdoing the early speed, which I do all too readily as I push myself as fast as I think I should be going relative to those around me. At the fork in the path the marshal said: “Take any line down to the bridge”. I seized the opportunity to overshoot the right fork and the line of runners on it and a few yards further on angle down and diagonally across the soft springy heather. The mud-free, vegetated descent offered much more assured grip than did the muddy, stony path with water flowing down it.

A marshal and (I think) a photographer were at the footbridge to prevent us from crossing and direct us up William Clough. Then it was a jog, shuffle or climb in line. A few trips and stumbles occurred. I muddied my drink bottle nozzles. I gave them a rinse as I crossed one of the many streamlets but subsequent swigs always seemed to be gritty. Not to worry. All I needed to add was a bit of determination and I’d be sure to do well.

As we climbed in line I was again appreciating the ‘rest’. I was a fraction off pushing my limits, which I would have been doing with no-one in front. This recharged me because, as the path began to widen in brief sections I used carefully measured bursts of effort to sprint past one, two, possibly three others who seemed to be toiling rather. This was still on quite steep uphill gradients. What was happening? After yesterday’s effort I was expecting much worse than this. Earlier on I had been trying to hold on to Barny but he had slowly pulled away before the beginning of the climb up William Clough. However, now I appeared to be reeling him in again.

The climb levelled out and we passed the first right turn at the fingerpost to the next junction where the marshal was taking our numbers. I lifted up my windproof top to flash my number then turned right to descend a little before the final steep climb up to the plateau on the very rocky path. I overtook Barny on this climb. A brief word was exchanged (there was no spare breath for any more). We climbed into the cloud and turned right around the edge towards the Downfall (it seemed a long way), dancing, hopping, skipping and running over and between the rocks, boulders and boggy bits. I detected a subtle brightening of the fog and commented to anyone within earshot that the sun would be out soon. Not a murmur of a response. Perhaps they had less breath to spare than I had, and I’d been doing the overtaking!

We passed another marshal and flagged section on the open moonscape bit with large cairn as our path undulated around the edge of the plateau, then we hit the sandstone flagged path. I looked for the left fork that the instructions said we had to take, but it was flagged anyway. The map and compass in the small of my back were guiding me well.

I’d expected Barny to have re-overtaken me well before now but he hadn’t done. No doubt it would happen on the descent like happened at Lamb's Longer Leg in January. I could hear someone a little way behind but not too close. Perhaps this was him just before the imminent descent. I never looked back, all effort being channelled into forward motion and the safe placement of the next footstep.

A short sharp muddy descent brought us to Edale Cross and the next number check (windproof lifted once again). A right turn down the rocky track barely in control on tiring legs brought us to a stile up the bank on the right, well marshalled of course. I climbed and crossed as they offered encouraging words and I returned my thanks. As we continued down the grassy path that contoured down the hill, the sun was beginning to show. I was getting rather warm. I tried to roll up my windproof right sleeve and stubbed my toe on a rock, sending me stumbling forwards. I veered up the bank on the right to slow down and recover from a certain fall. Phew! Rejoining the path I was beginning to boil over and becoming dangerously clumsy. I finally managed to roll up both sleeves without further mishap but the additional cooling would soon prove inadequate.

Down and across to another stile, barely in control, I was just about holding my own. An even steeper open field, well trampled, muddy and slick, appeared that had to be crossed. My feet suddenly disappeared from under me and I slid for several yards on my left hip waiting for my speed to slow sufficiently before using my forward motion to raise myself back onto my feet to continue running. Another runner asked if I was alright. I couldn't have felt better. It was a nice soft landing and strangely exhilarating to be sliding at such speed, pain-free across this muddy lubrication.

Soon our descent began to level out onto tracks and lanes as we neared Hayfield, but still no sign of Barny. I was slowing down seriously and the death plod was setting in with heart rate maxed out on 182bpm. He was sure to pass soon. I had to do something about my overheating problem and managed to lift up the front of my windproof top and hook it behind my neck. Ah, that’s better. It didn’t help me to speed up but it prevented me from grinding to a halt. Then the inevitable happened – other runners began to trickle past now that we were onto the ‘easy’ run in to the finish. I fixed my stare far ahead to where I was headed, almost with tunnel vision, trying to not let a single thought deflect me from getting to the finish as quickly as I could. We entered the outskirts of Hayfield and soon turned right down a steep section of path before turning left into a park. I could see the finish across the river. The path took us around via the bridge and back to the finish on the other side. My red-line plod seemed so slow. A couple more runners sprinted past me, one runner just before the finish chute (I'm always impressed by how they can do that) as I bumbled my way to the line with nothing in reserve that would have permitted any hint of a last dash. I could hear one final runner bearing down and trying his chances to barge past me at the chute; now that would've been downright rude but the marshal made a move to maintain order. I crossed the line to join the other runners who had just finished, bent forwards, hands on knees trying to will away the wave of nausea that our supreme efforts had caused. It would be short lived.

Final results are now out. My time of 1:45:10 earned me 191st out of 272. It might have got me a bottom 29.8% place but I was pretty chuffed with that. I’d found it quite exhilarating and energetic compared to my usual outings, Parkruns excepted. Talking of Parkruns, my average and maximum heart rates were similar for Saturday’s Parkrun as for this: 175bpm average and 182bpm maximum. I pushed my same limits over 10 rough miles as I did over three and a quarter easier ones.

Barny crossed the line 21 seconds after me. He’d been chasing me down. Given another few hundred yards he would have caught me! I returned his compass and map to him with thanks once again. I hope their journey in my bum-bag didn’t wear them out, Barny. ;-)

We wandered back to the scout hut, which was bursting at the seams once more to join in with the cake eating and tea drinking. Well, I had to join the tea queue first. Demand was high. I chatted with ‘Fellmonkey’ Simon as we waited for our refreshment turn (15th – good effort Simon). Also Steve Temple was around for a chat. Steve is the illustrious creator and keeper of the Hayfield fell race series and Bullock Smithy Hike results websites, which I have used and greatly appreciated for many years. It was good also to make the acquaintance of Dave Cumins (29th – another superb effort). I sensed that he doesn’t do many of these shorter fell races but I may be wrong. We both also ran Wuthering Hike and Calderdale Hike and he travels a long way from the south of the country to do these events which I’m privileged to have on my doorstep. That’s commitment for you!

After the results presentation an evocative short film was shown, which illustrated a poem on the subject of running. I recognised a very wintry Stoodley Pike. The room was silent and gripped for those three minutes or so. The artistes were there but unfortunately I did not note their details; and so ended a wonderful day.

Sorry but no photos this time. Speed (ahem) and snapping don't go together.

How's this for a tale of grit and determination, and he issued his report the same evening. Top effort Zephr!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

34th Calderdale Hike 37mi. 14/04/2012.

Race 2 of 12 in the 2012 Runfurther series.

In the week before Easter the first irritation and soreness arose in my tubes. With something brewing in my head I decided to kick the Rivington Pike fell race on Easter Saturday into touch. That decision was reinforced by a sudden urgent need to get the mapping software on my computer working again after a download of a driver update had mysteriously disabled it.

Business travel to Turkey in the following week and the air travel it entailed was not pleasant with tubes now blocked. I’m surprised I didn’t suffer a ruptured eardrum on the four descents, the worst one being back into Manchester. Then the lung congestion and cough set in. By Saturday I had gone through two weeks without any running and a week of disturbed sleep and I was hacking away nicely. The bonus was that the deep sonorous voice I had acquired was even more manly than usual. ;-)

The three-quarter-hour drive up to Sowerby was less lonely than I'm accustomed to; I had the pleasure of a passenger to talk dirty about all things running. Rick Williams had entered the event late as a tester on his way back from injury and had travelled down from Scotland on Friday to doss down at mine, ready for a hassle-free start on Saturday. A good fill of fish and chips on Friday evening saw us well fuelled.

On arrival at the cricket club I spied Runfurther Karen just beginning to get the sponsors’ flags out of her van. I offered to help to put them up. The route for the day soon came up in conversation and Karen was pleased that she already knew the route from last year. Pardon? It quickly transpired that the website still had last year’s route details linked and Karen had downloaded her instructions from the wrong link. The realisation tipped the balance. After a night of no sleep in her van listening to the church clock chime every quarter hour and now discovering that she was about to embark on her first Ultra in a long time with no idea of the route, meltdown was the only outcome. Poor Karen; I did feel sorry. I offered to run the event with her as I’d reconnoitred the route; I sensed reservation because we all go at different speeds and unwanted pressure might arise, but I didn’t have a spare map. Then a knight in shining armour in the form of Ian Symington offered his spare that he’d used for route planning with all the checkpoints marked. Combined with my spare map case she was sorted. Granted she would be reconnoitring on the real event, but unlike me, Karen’s a good navigator.

At 9am we set off running out of the cricket club drive and right up the road uphill all the way to CP1 at Nab End (2.0mi.). The forecast cloud was already moving in after the sunny start to the day. It was a lot cooler and considerably wetter underfoot than it has been for the past three years (back to normal in fact). There was even a bit of early ground frost.

I was glad of the reconnoitring I had done that enabled me to make up a few places on the fiddly navigation with multiple route choices to CP2 at Erringden Grange (4.8mi.). Then it was easy navigation (just follow your eyes) to join part of The Hebden route and the Wuthering Hike route in reverse up to Stoodley Pike and CP3 (6.6mi.). The wind was strong and cold and I was grateful for any brief bursts of sunshine that were becoming increasingly rare, to be replaced by sleet, snow and hail flurries.

 Checkpoint 2 @ Erringden Grange.

A descent of the steep side brought us on very familiar territory in reverse (the previous Calderdale Hike route and Wuthering Hike) to Lumbutts Church and CP4 (7.7mi.). A third of a banana was my first checkpoint food to supplement my own supplies. I was already taking a gel every hour, but I found that the rich sugary substance irritated the back of my throat where my diseased trachea joined it. The result was stinging, coughing and retching until I’d drunk enough water to rinse the area clear of the irritant. Every so often during a lung-clearing coughing fit a chunk of unmentionable was expelled with great satisfaction upon the ground for the slugs to chew on at next nightfall.

Approaching Lumbutts.

From CP4 was a descent past the partially converted mill apartments on the left that appear not to have been selling for the past few years, and up to the next sneaky corner-cutting path to the right. Here a dog got rather excited and barked warnings as I ran through the woods. The owner said: “She's alright. She's not used to people running through here.” “Hello”, I thought. “I can't possibly be anywhere near the front of the pack, there aren't many stud prints in the mud and a dog walker hasn't seen other runners through here? Here's another minute I'm gaining on others. I might even finish in the top half at this rate. Bring it on!”

I continued to run alone with renewed vigour down the lane to the A646 crossing at Todmorden, now back on the reverse of the Wuthering Hike route. Here I met someone who seemed to be unsure of the route. I directed him up the abandoned and neglected cobbles and steps where I'd slipped and fallen last month on the Wuthering Hike (I still bear the scabs and scars). We cut up left and across to the lanes, paths and steps that brought us up past the church with its clock tower with four holes where clocks should be. They must have run out of money a hundred or more years ago.

CP5 (9.4mi.) at the golf club was soon arrived at. Continuing to climb the track after that, the wind was blowing and the sleet was blowing in. I decided to put my wind-proof top on while I was still reasonably sheltered, in anticipation of the exposed section over Hoof Stones. I also put my camera away because I did not want it getting wet in the expected worsening conditions. Mark Rawlinson overtook me while I faffed. Shortly afterwards the sun came out and I became quite toasty. Typical. Plenty of photo opportunities would be missed.

CP6 (12.0mi.) at the end of the track near Lower Mount Farm was very familiar in a Wuthering Hike sort of way. After that came a right turn up the lane to the main road (such as it is). After turning left along the road I noticed in the far distance to the left a white shape on the ground that resembled a helicopter. Because I couldn’t get any perspective I couldn’t be sure whether it was buildings and tracks whose grouping looked like a helicopter. I monitored it as I shuffled my way along the road, then I noticed a rotation at its rear end. A tail rotor had revealed its presence as it began to rotate. It really was a helicopter after all.

I climbed the stile on the right onto the fell-side at the Lancashire/Yorkshire border to climb the saturated peaty hill towards Hoof Stones Height trig point. The stream below me to the right tumbled down across the bed rock. As I climbed the fell along the boundary line in pursuit of Mark in the distance, the helicopter came buzzing across from my left at very low altitude to skim over the hill and out of sight – the boy-racing tearaway.

Upon my arrival at CP7 (13.3mi.) at Hoof Stones Height I was steeling myself for the Fellsman-like peat-bog-and-hag-fest I’d already reconnoitred along the left side of the fence along the watershed-cum-boundary line, when I noticed that Mark was ahead on the right side. He seemed to know what he was doing so I decided to follow to see what that side was like. The marshal directed me to the stile that was hidden by his tent. The ground was mercifully vegetated and bog-free as I dodged my way along to pick the best lines. The last of the hail showers blew in head-on on the strong wind; I was now thankful for my wind-proof top. I noticed Mark ahead veering to the right away from the fence line. He must have reconnoitred even better than I had. He was going for the direct line between the reservoirs. I made the snap decision to follow him because I’d been wondering what that route choice would be like. Now was the time to find out! I couldn't believe how good the going was compared to the peat bogs along the top. Simon and Clare had caught up with me here and we three picked our way down the fell to join a quad track that led us down to the dam crossing of Gorple Upper Reservoir.

We’d made good progress, the down side being that we had lost quite a bit of height to the dam which we had to regain up Shuttleworth Moor. A quick right and left on footpaths followed by a fork right up and across the fell across dead or burnt heather brought us to the Grouse Butts path we needed to take northwards, to take us to the track down to Widdop Reservoir. Amazingly given the drought in other parts of the country, the reservoir was overflowing – the first time I have seen this in many years. CP8 (17.0mi.) was in the usual place at the parking area near the dam.

From Widdop we continued on the reverse of the Wuthering Hike route towards CP9 (20.9mi.) at Top Withens. I had slowed and been overtaken by a few more runners and I was alone again apart from the occasional walkers I was overtaking, still thankful for the wind-resisting qualities of my featherweight top. At Top Withens I took my camera out again to photograph the plaque on the ‘repaired ruin’, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time but didn’t even do when I did my recce. It was now or never.

Checkpoint 9 @ Top Withens.

Mark Dalton and Danny caught up with me just before I left, still on the reverse of the Wuthering Hike route. I looked out once again (as I had done on my recce) for the path that’s supposed to cut across towards Harbour Hill. I didn’t see it so the familiar route was taken once again down to Bronte Bridge and on towards Penistone Hill. The sun had come out again and I was getting toasty once more by the time I forked right on the Millennium Way to cut the corner to the road. A right turn down the road soon brought me to CP10 (23.7mi.) and turnaround point. The sun was now fully out and the wind would be on my back after the turn, so off came the top. That proved to be a good move because I remained toasty until the end. Heck, I even had to roll my sleeves up before long.

Fuelled by another third of a banana to add to my own food I ran up the track towards Drop Farm and saw Mark and Danny running towards me from Haworth Moor along the converging track I could never get to. I called across to ask how they got there. “From Bronte Bridge” came the reply. Hmm, I’m not sure that route would offer any distance or time advantage over the one I took. I’m not sure I’ll bother.

I turned left to descend towards Leeshaw Reservoir, looking longingly as always at the benefit we would get if there were a path across the dam. Unfortunately it is out of bounds and we must descend around and below the dam to lose more height before climbing back up past the dam on the long, rocky trudge on tired legs to Top of Stairs. I was running with Nigel now as we topped out and ran, Stoodley Pike way ahead in the far distance, down to CP11 (26.8mi.) at Grain Water Bridge. This location always seems to be sheltered, warm and sunny whenever I pass through. It would be a nice place for a dwelling.

Still on the reverse of the Wuthering Hike route we climbed the track to the next summit before the long run down to CP12 (29.0mi.) at New Bridge. “We must be making good time now with all this running”, I thought to myself. A quick stop and a tuna sandwich grabbed for later and we were off down to the road and another ‘about turn’ to climb back up towards Pecket Well, along the main road a little before continuing the climb in the same direction along another track to CP13 (30.4mi.) at Delf End.

From Delf End I overtook some more walkers on the climb to the old quarry and the top of the ridge, then came a quick right on the main path before forking left on the diagonal trod that’s difficult to pick out on the ground but is in fact the dotted green footpath line on the map. I overtook all the others who were taking the long route along two sides of the triangle as I took just the one.

Joining back up with the main path after the first ventilation tower I ran down to the second tower, beyond which is located the ever-present bog and 'Area of Standing Natural Water' (if you’ve been there, you’ll know). A short moor traverse brought me to the wall and dreadfully waterlogged path which, unlike on my recce, I aimed to follow for quite a long way. However I became confused when I eventually reached an unexpected fork in the path. A chasing pack of runners caught up at that moment to rescue me from my predicament and pull me back onto a footpath that cut down across the fields to the lower track. It got us to where we needed to be in the end but the route I ended up taking was even worse than the route I’d reconnoitred, and I was trying to improve on that. Not to worry. I’ll know for next year to knock another minute off. The Calderdale Hike is a navigation exercise after all and ripe for optimisation. This would prove to be my only non-optimum bit of navigation.

We ran in to CP14 (33.2mi.) at Jerusalem Farm. Up the stairs I climbed to the smartly refurbished room (I think it’s an outdoor centre) for a top-up of water before re-descending without too much difficulty (my legs might be strong but my engine is weak). The biggest crowd of runners for many hours had converged and was about to set off, but I found myself alone again within ten seconds as I elected to take the steeply climbing path diagonally up the fields to the right while they took the lower level road route around to the next checkpoint. I wondered if I’d made the right decision as I toiled upwards. Nevertheless I did enjoy the peaceful, off-road traverse of more countryside. I finally topped out and followed the lanes and tracks down to the A646, where a left turn for a while brought me to the road exit where the other route joined. The other runners arrived at exactly the same time. There was nothing in it time-wise. My route was shorter but with more climbing. I’d choose the scenic route every time.

Crossing the main road brought us to CP15 (35.3mi.) at Luddenden Foot (also the reverse of “Walk to ‘Ell And Back”), then it was a mercifully short run along the canal towpath before turning right onto the lanes that climbed steeply back up to the finish. Phew! 37 tough miles in 8:34 was ‘par for the course’ for me bearing in mind that last year’s time over an easier 35-mile route was 7:45. It could have been a lot worse given the lead-up. My average heart rate was 165bpm (maximum 181), which is spot on for eking the maximum performance out of myself. I could not have gone any faster.

As I recovered and cooled down outside, Rick came out looking refreshed, changed and squeaky clean. “I never saw you overtake me” I said (in my delirious state I thought I'd set off in front of him but photographic evidence suggests the opposite); “How did you do?” As I prepared to offer my commiserations for his forced retirement he said: “Oh, around 6:50”. I should have suspected. He did come across as a bit of a racing snake, even on the way back from injury. Well done, Rick.

A little later inside the clubhouse, Geoff Holburt (who’s always in the fastest walking team on this event) asked where I’d been and had I got lost. (This isn’t the first time he’s asked such a question. He thinks I’m more athletically gifted than I am.) No Geoff, I was running and I followed an almost perfect route. He then proceeded to tell me that I’d been beaten by the fastest walker, who’d completed in 7:57. That was the icing on the cake. I felt so special.

I began my recovery with tea and chilli and cheese on baked potato. Before I’d finished I had to have a lie-down by the fire exit. I felt wasted, confirming to me that I’d given my all that day.

Later on the way out I asked the timekeepers about the fastest walker, and how can he be so much faster than so many runners? It transpired that he was a serious speed walker, straight legs, wiggling hips, the full works. Because his checkpoint arrival times were so incredible, he was probably the most ‘observed’ competitor on the event. (Understandably there are strict rules against running on the walking event, with disqualification the penalty). He was never seen to run a step and all the visible signs of his locomotion suggested that he should be competing for the country. I am seriously impressed and wonder how fast he could go if he actually did run.

After her early upset and having recced the route on the day using Ian’s map, Karen finished in a little over 9 hours. What a success. I love it when a plan comes together.

Map donor Ian Symington went on to win in 5:28. Second was Stuart Walker in 5:33 and third was Martin Beale in 5:39. First female finisher was Helen Skelton in 6:36 (=15th overall) – all amazing performances.

Because I was pushing my limits and my camera was hidden away for nine miles of the route, pictures are a little limited.

Stop press! Results just out. In the runners' category I finished 70th out of 98 finishers. Top half? Call the medics! I may have ruptured a side through hysterical laughter.

Monday, 2 April 2012

The Three Shires 29mi. / 5,355'. 31/03/2012.

In the beginning I started with LDWA events and I shall end with LDWA events. The Three Shires convinces me of this fact every time I go near it. Staffs LDWA wait on us with the most wonderful food befitting the flagship annual Hundred. It is so low-key and uncompetitive that some of us weren't even aware that the runners' start had occurred; we waited at the back of the hall for our send-off speech like the walkers had had an hour earlier, then we suddenly saw a group of runners jogging away up the road. I didn't bust a gut trying to chase them. That would be feudal (sorry, futile; I'm not in America now).

There are 20, 22, 27 and 29 mile options. For the first time I would be doing the Full Fat 29, including the 2-mile excursion up and around the back of Shutlingsloe followed by the 7-mile Cheshire loop that starts and finishes at Wildboarclough Village Hall (checkpoint 2, the first checkpoint being at Roach End). From my memory, the route took in parts of the old Kipling Kaper which this event replaces, Bullock Smithy Hike, Roaches Fell Race, Staffordshire Moorlands Christmas Cracker and Cloud 7 Circuit (long since defunct). There must be others I've forgotten, like how about Leek Moors Marathon (also long since defunct)?

Wildboarclough village hall deserves special mention. It shall always be remembered as that life-giving oasis with giant dining table you can sit at and stuff your face with warm cheesy oatcakes washed down with a cup of tea (provided you took your mug along). Dessert was rice pudding and peaches. If that wasn't enough there were cakes and nibbles on the side. Only the Full Fat participants got to indulge twice, and did I need to indulge twice. Both times I arrived depleted, hungry and slowed. Both times I departed with a new lease of life and a spring in my step, not to mention a (slightly) fat belly.

Wildboarclough dining facility.

Conditions underfoot were the driest I have known for this event. The daffodils were in full bloom and the trees were just beginning to burst into bud, while the birds screamed their little heads off to celebrate the arrival of spring. On the return leg and the steep descent to Gradbach Youth Hostel (where Alison caught me up for the umpteenth time), the dry, gorse-lined path made it feel more like summer. The sun even showed itself a little to complete the illusion.

Alison descends to Gradbach YH.

The event filled to its 160 capacity quicker than ever before. Its reputation is spreading.

Here are the pictures. I make no apologies for the preponderance of food.