Rombalds Stride: The Return

When I am running, I think of lots of things to write about. I get a thought, or I observe something, and think: that can go in the blog. Then I forget everything. The forgetting gets bigger and bigger as I get more and more tired. And when I ran 22 miles over moors in pelting rain for four hours and thirty-seven minutes on Saturday, I got very very tired.

I love the Rombalds Stride. I did it last year, and I think I’ll do it every year that I can. It’s a 22 mile race, technically, but I actually ran 21.6 miles though I’m not sure where I cut the half-mile off. I was nervous the night before and had a stress dream about getting to the race and forgetting my fell shoes, then the rest of the dream was me trying to find an access point to enter the race, only I never did. So I woke up in a grumpy mood at 6.05am, ate toast and drank lots of tea, then set off for Guiseley. I’d checked the weather forecast every day of the preceding week, and it had never changed.

Rain. Constant, copious rain. It was due to start raining at 9am. We were due to start running at 9am.

Kit: I consulted with FRB, and then decided on a Helly base layer, club vest, waterproof jacket, shorts, my lucky rainbow race socks, my beloved Injinji foot socks, and a waistpack that contained:

4 gels
Half a dozen marzipan & nut balls
A woollen hat
Some long tights
Waterproof trousers
A photocopied map of the race route
Compass
Whistle
Survival blanket (though I took that out)
A spare pair of mittens
A spare pair of gloves
A pouch of water

I didn’t need the food or water, as the route is dotted with laden food and drink stalls. So, I got to the school in Guiseley which is the race HQ, as it’s next-door to the HQ of Guiseley Scouts, who run the event. As usual, there was a mix of walkers and runners. Everyone was bundled up so the easiest way to spot the difference was to look down at the feet. Boots = walkers. Fell shoes = runners. Ugg boots = god knows. I arrived, registered, got my punch-card, which had to be stamped at 12 checkpoints (including one bucket drop, where you have to drop a token in a bucket). What I should have done then is tie the punch-card around my neck with the string provided, immediately. But I didn’t. I went to move my car, as I’d been told the leisure centre might ticket it, and parked it a five minute walk away, got back to the school, then realised I’d left the punch-card and string on the dashboard.

See. Dreams do come true.

So I walked back to the car and got changed there instead: Compression socks on, gloves on, headband on, banana scoffed. I’d brought coffee to drink but couldn’t stomach it. Then to the school to find FRB, and out to the start point, over the A65 and to an undistinguished spot on an industrial estate near McDonalds. I felt OK though I had no idea how I was going to run 22 miles. But then, I always feel like I have no idea how to run at all. I stand at race starts and try to figure out physiologically what I must do to run, and it seems impossible. Then the race starts and I run.

I was hoping to run with people I knew, but there was no-one at my pace, so I set off on my own and stayed like that for the whole race. I was uncertain about some of the route in the first half, and my mind played tricks on me so that I was convinced that after one section, through a field then up a steep road, led to the first checkpoint, up a steep hill. But it didn’t. It was a mile later, and inbetween there were more fields. It was raining, so I had started in my waterproof and never took it off. But even so, I was warm enough to take my gloves off. So I know that this picture was taken early on:

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The trouble with rain isn’t the wet but the visibility. There were some stretches of the moor that I should have known, but with all the mist and fog, it all looked the same. It all looked like nothing more than the next step, and the faint outline of a hi-vis top somewhere off ahead.

It’s daft to rely on other people as navigators, because they may not know where they’re going either, but I was lucky, and I was never really alone. We headed up to Baildon Moor, to the checkpoint at the trig point. I took a few pictures:

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But the procedure to take pictures involved stopping, taking my gloves off, pulling my waistpack around, fetching my phone wrapped in a plastic bag, taking it out of the bag and then doing the whole thing in reverse. And it was just too cold and wet to do that. So this is the lot.

During the next stretch of moorland, I fell arms first into a bog, so stopped and put on my Christmas present: some Montane Prism mitts. I’m mentioning those because they are magical. After another ten miles, my hands were soaking wet, I could feel that the insides of the mitts were soaking wet too, and yet they still kept my hands warm. Amazing things.

What else? Along the way there were stalls offering treats, cakes, biscuits, usually hot or cold drinks. I drank my first ever mid-race cup of tea and it was delicious. The marshalls were cheery and lovely despite having to stand out in that weather for probably eight hours (by the time the walkers had finished). On the top of the next moor, apparently past the Twelve Apostles (for there was no sign of them in the mist), there was a mile or so of flagstones. I remembered them from last year, when they were skating stones because of the ice, and it was perilous to try to overtake anyone because you didn’t know whether your foot would go through snow into a deep bog or some nice springy heather. This year they were just wet. And again, I was convinced I knew that at the end we would come to some big rocks and do a hairpin turn and hit the Millenium Way.

No. Nothing like. There was more moor, and more, and Whetstone Gate, and then more, and by this time I was running automatically. I must have lost some brain cells too because I got down nearly to the path up to White Wells, where there was a fork, and my brain thought, why are those people standing around in this weather, and I turned and said to the people running behind me, which way? And they pointed towards the people who were standing around in this weather, and said “Checkpoint!”. Idiot. I stopped for another cup of tea, then headed up to White Wells and Rocky Valley. On the recce I did with FRB, I dropped him at Menston and drove to Guiseley to set off to meet him, and made myself a mantra of his instructions. It was something like: White Wells right, Rocky Valley, left fork, beck, right. But it was more poetic than that. Anyway I forgot the mantra and I forgot which way to go at the fork, though I remembered FRB saying “NEVER go up the steps,” which some people do. You can choose your routes on Rombald’s as long as you make all the checkpoints. FRB’s club-mate Dave, who was also running, managed to cut a corner and miss a checkpoint, but at that point he was so tired and wet, he couldn’t be bothered to go back. It was colder on the tops, but by now I had all sensible layers on. Above White Wells, there was the extremely surprising sight of Lucy and Ben from my club who despite the awful weather had come out to support, with a very large umbrella. Thanks, Lucy and Ben! Lucy also took a picture of me looking a lot fresher than I felt:

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So, up the left fork, over Coldstone Ghyll, immediately right up through the heather, then along a path to Pancake Rock, to the left, then down into Burley-in-Wharfedale. For some reason I can remember the urban stuff. We got through Menston, then took a path off to what I knew was a long stretch of fields and stiles. About five stiles, at a stage in the race – mile 19 or so – when even one stile feels like stepping over this: 449444

After about two stiles, I gave up. I was so exhausted. I’d eaten something along the way that gave me stomach cramps, I felt like I needed an emergency toilet, and couldn’t tell whether I’d crapped in my pants or not (a not unknown situation for runners). My left calf was very painful and had been for miles, and all in all I was pissed off. I walked through two fields, and I’ve never done that before. But then I had a look at my watch and started calculating. There was a long downhill coming up to the bottom of the Chevin, then a steep climb up which should take about 20 minutes, then if I pelted it the last two miles down into Guiseley, maybe I could beat last year’s time! I did it 4:28 last year, and if my sodden brain was calculating properly, I could maybe, maybe do it in 4:15, and almost certainly in under 4:28.

I got a shift on. The climb up Chevin was awful, but it always is. I walked all the way to the top then did my best at pelting. It was downhill to the road, down the road, then along a track that is usually rife with deep puddles and bogs. It’s also not flat. I’d had enough by now. I ran straight through one big puddle, and someone running next to me said, “That’s the spirit, eh: Fuck it!”

Quite. I told him about my calculations that we could make it back in under 4:30 and I remember him looking a little puzzled. I assumed he just hadn’t heard me properly.

There was another stretch of track that I’d totally forgotten about, then a long tanking down into the town. I made my legs go as fast as they could. I got a cheer from one club-mate sitting in one car, and another from some other friends who are far faster than me and had probably already been hanging around for an hour, so were on their way home. I got back to the school, though there were times on this run when I thought that would never happen, and this year I remembered not to flop down on a chair for two minutes, but to go straight to the desk and report back. I checked my watch and internally yelled with joy:

4.15!!!

I was ecstatic. But I was ecstatic in a I-need-to-go-to-the-toilet-and-not-move-for-ten-minutes kind of way. Which I did. Finally I got the energy to get changed, then went to find FRB in the school dining hall. He said, how did you do, and I showed him my watch and said 4:15!!! and did a little jig. He said, with faint puzzlement, “that’s outstanding,” and we headed over to sit down with some friends. FRB asked Kieran, who is usually quicker than me, what time he’d done, and he said, 4:20.

Eh?

“Um,” said FRB. “Did you have your watch on auto-pause?”

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Oh.

Yes.

So much for my outstanding time. I finally figured out that I’d done 4:37 instead. And that that was outstanding in its own way, given the conditions. FRB had done it 15 minutes slower than the year before too. So I was very proud of myself, and began to eat the free pie and spuds, until I realised I couldn’t actually eat anything. I drank many cups of tea, ate a few biscuits, then went to fetch this year’s prizes: a water bottle, a patch and a certificate:

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My lovely new Garmin watch told me that although I hadn’t beaten my time, I had comprehensively over-achieved in my daily steps challenge. Silver linings, eh?

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Afterwards, I was a bit tired. When I did the London marathon in 2014, I didn’t do any exercise for a week. This time, I was doing a negative split, very fast, by the Tuesday. Well done, legs.

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