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.


  1. Great write-up Nick, as ever :0) I'm glad you got to work out that was a helicopter up near the Hoof Stones. When I arrived, there was a man dangling a big white pole thingy around, he looked very strange, but then I think he thought we were all strange for running around in the sleet/rain. Strange looks exchanged!

  2. Great stuff Nick, excellent report and I'm sorry I missed it ... I'm equally positive that I would, without a shadow of doubt, have been lost - possibly into the DNF category! ...

  3. Strange encounters up on the moors eh, Helen?

    Mike, you would have beaten me by very many minutes approaching sixty ;-)