Yorkshireman off-road marathon

They call it YORM. It is an acronym I won’t forget, however ugly it is, because for 26.3 miles, every so often there was another red YORM sticker on a wall or a fence post or on the ground. The route was so well stickered I wondered if I could have got round without recce-ing, without going over the map and the narrative instructions a dozen times, trying desperately to embed them in my brain, and asking FRB to test me the day before as we lay abed, fiercely tapering by doing nothing, and I went through the whole route. He gave me a score of 75% and looked impressed. That, from a human sat-nav, is fine with me.

I wasn’t nervous. Perhaps because this was my fourth marathon (though at one point, with my menopausal brain fog still rearing up now and then, I couldn’t remember how many I’d done). Perhaps because I don’t aspire to be fast these days and we weren’t going for a particular time. We, because I was running as a pair with Sara from Pudsey Pacers. I’d asked her a while ago, once I’d found out that YORM allowed pairs to run together. I knew she’d be great company, and we are currently fairly well matched on pace. We’ve had some lovely recces together, which I will remember fondly, not least for the fact that we discovered Asa Nicholson’s bakery and cafe in Denholme, and would stock up there with flapjack and bread and pork pies and coffee, and drink coffee and flapjack before setting off. The young woman serving us was a torrent of loveliness and positive energy, and buying a block of fresh yeast from her – another amazing and valuable discovery – was the equivalent of several energy gels. She has just started running, and runs with a women’s running group in Denholme. We said, have you been on the moors yet? She said no, that was beyond her, and we told her firmly otherwise, waving up at the beautiful moorland that we could see out of the bakery window, so I hope she gets up there soon.

I felt confident about knowing the route, which is fortunate, as several weeks after the marathon, I discovered that in my race kit I’d packed the narrative instructions for Rombald Stride instead. FRB had written us narrative instructions, as the assistance from Keighley Harriers was, er, minimal, consisting of a pdf of the route map which I’d had to ask for. Charlie, the organiser, said they would be selling them on race day but that’s not much use for recces. So FRB came to the rescue, except he had based the instructions on his memory of running the Yorkshireman in 2013, as well as OS, so there were little changes, like a wind farm that no longer exists. And some allotments which exist only in FRB’s head. But in general, they were brilliant. So I did two recces with Sara, meeting her at Lees reservoir near Oxenhope and running back to Denholme, then driving back to Oxenhope. We both managed the two car thing without either of us leaving our car keys in the wrong car (it is easy to do), though my yeast ended up in Sara’s boot and in her husband’s bread later in the week. I like recces; you don’t have to pelt them out at a pace, you get time to see the scenery, and time to hopefully learn the route. I fell twice on this one though, as you can see from this post. I did another one with FRB, from Denholme to the finish (though without going up the steep, cobbled, horrid Butt Lane that the malicious race organisers have put in the route), another one with FRB one gorgeous mid-week evening, because Sara and I had gone wrong over Warley Moor, ending up on a road with no clue, no good map and no phone signal. So I wanted to get that bit right in my head. In fact the path is pretty clear, we had just had a different interpretation of “head to Rocking Stone Flat.” FRB maintains Rocking Stone Flat is a long rock formation and you can’t see most of it so you are heading to it, whereas I still maintain that when instructions say head to Rocking Stone Flat, and Rocking Stone Flat is as distinctive as this:


We are still choosing to disagree about it. Hours of fun.

The final recce was again with Sara, and again going from Denholme (via Asa Nicholson’s of course) to the finish, and again avoiding Butt Lane until we couldn’t avoid it any longer (on race day). This time something went wrong again. I think it was the progesterone I have to take for two weeks a month, but about 20 minutes after we’d stopped on Harden Moor for a lovely cheese pasty, I suddenly had stomach cramps, a vague term that in this case meant severe shooting pains. I ran through it for several miles, but every footfall sent a shudder of pain into my pelvis, and finally I had to admit that I had to stop and walk. Sara was wonderfully patient, and had injury issues of her own to deal with – a dodgy ankle – and said she was glad of the walk. I think we were a couple of miles from the finish, and I’d spent several miles trying not to cry. FRB, who had done his own run but elsewhere on the route, joined us as we hit the Worth Way back into Haworth, and seemed alarmed at how quiet I was. Pain makes you quiet, sometimes. You concentrate all your effort into enduring it. All I could think of was getting to the car and lying down, and that’s what I did. Not sending all that impact up into my abdomen and pelvis helped. Anyway, it wasn’t fun, and I got myself to the GP. I’m getting a scan, but I’m pretty certain it was the progesterone.

Back to the marathon. After a week of tapering, I felt fat and heavy and horrible, and I was looking forward to fresh air and running, while of course having no clue how to run and feeling like I’d never done it before. In short, a normal taper. FRB and I have learned that for big races, we are best off staying in our respective houses and meeting at the venue. Race nerves do not lead to harmony or good sleep. So that’s what we did. I was, for me, amazingly well prepared. I’d made lists. 


I laid everything out in careful piles. I thought about hydration, nutrition, covering. I bought veggie sausages and chopped them into bite-sized pieces because there always comes a time in a marathon when I can’t bear any more sugar or energy gels gloop. I made marzipan balls and stuffed them with chopped nuts and coated them with desiccated coconut. Of course in the end I ate no sausages and had one marzipan ball, but fell runners are like Scouts: always be prepared.

The race began at the primary school in Haworth where it would also end. There is also a Yorkshireman half that starts half an hour later, and I was the only Harrier running the full marathon so there were no other purples around. The school corridors were a pungent mix of Deep Heat and coffee. And I hadn’t quite thought through my parking decision: I’d parked at the bottom of Butt Lane, but not carried kit with me, not realising what a schlep it was up to the school. I suppose I was just paying for not having done recces of Butt Lane. Instead, I did two of them on race morning. I felt OK, and it was nice to be in cheery company; a few Pudsey Pacers were doing the full, along with Sara.

Having done a damn good warm-up up and down Butt Lane, I finally found myself with kit in the right place. I got changed: lucky striped socks (actually hooped calf sleeves, FRB), funny Injinji toe socks over toes slathered with anti-chafing cream. My Kirkstall vest, sadly, was still somewhere over on the Dark Side, as I’d left it behind at Turnslack fell race and it hadn’t made its way home yet. I had a technical Kirkstall 30th anniversary t-shirt instead, which I hadn’t done a long run in – oops – but hoped would do. (It did, mostly, though its tendency to ride up made for some unflattering belly shots before I realised I should tuck it in.) We were ready.
The marathon runners gathered up on the cobbled streets of Haworth. I hadn’t recced the first couple of miles, as I reckoned there would be enough people to follow, and that was the case. Charlie Marshall, the race director, gave instructions. The first one was, has everyone got their dibber? You were given it when you collected (re-usable, rather stiff) race numbers but it wasn’t extremely clear and I could see how people might have missed it. There were two audible exclamations and two blokes ran off back to the school, a good five minutes away, to collect theirs. In fact their start was timed from the school, which was generous. 
And off we went. Up, up, and more up. God, it hurt. I knew the first couple of miles was going to be hilly, but by ‘eck. The Yorkshireman is a CL in Fell Running Association rules, which means it’s long and the flattest of all categories, but what climb it has has mostly been chucked into the first section. Sara and I agreed: steady. Save the legs. And so we did, up to Lees Reservoir, up another hill, and then onto a long long conduit, where we encountered both Woodentops (Dave, then Eileen Woodhead). I tried to jump in the air for Dave, but it didn’t quite work. I think Eileen took this picture, which I love:
We were passed at this point by a bloke in a green kilt. I asked him what tartan it was. Obviously that’s the kind of chat you have on a long off-road marathon. “It’s not mine,” he said, and I thought he meant the kilt. But he meant the tartan. It was what FRB calls McParty Tartan. Off they ran, kilt flapping, and we didn’t see them again. As the miles went past, the field got thinner and thinner. But they also passed amazingly quickly, as Sara and I were chatting about families, Bake-off, running, everything. I looked at my watch and saw we’d done nearly six miles.
I was delighted to realise that I knew most of the route. There were parts which blended into each other, usually long stretches of field and stiles. Although FRB is still training me to remember routes by what kind of stile – “no, then you go over a wooden one,” and how many, I still can’t remember them. But I knew enough to be sure-footed. I also didn’t fall over. It was a lovely day to begin with: not too hot, sunshine, and the views over the moors were gorgeous. I tried to take them in, while trying to keep a decent pace, while trying to save the legs. I lied about not going for a time: I started off hoping for 5 hours, then that diminished to 5.30 hours. I kept that hope until the last seven miles or so when it was clear it wouldn’t happen.
It was so great running with confidence that I knew the route. I know I’m emphasising this, but usually I feel inadequate, and rely on FRB or other runners. I’m going to do proper recces more often. At Ogden Water, a pair of runners we’d been pendulum-running with (they go ahead, we catch them up, we go ahead, they catch them up) suddenly stopped and looked lost. We showed them the way, but they stopped at the toilets, and on the road beyond the reservoir there is a cunning hairpin turn onto a track, and I don’t think it was stickered. After that we were on our own for the rest of the race, so I think several people must have missed it. At Denholme Velvets, there was a checkpoint where we were greeted with “Table for two, ladies?”. The marshal was lovely, and he had jam sandwiches, which made me love him more. At least until he said, “you’ve done all the hills now.” Really? I said, and reeled off the four I knew were coming. There was a runner at the checkpoint who had DNF-ed (for non-runners: Did Not Finish). He looked rueful. “I had a week in Paris and ate all the cheese and drank all the wine.” In which case, well done to him for running 15 miles. He didn’t look rueful about having consumed all the cheese and wine.
I’d thought that we’d probably only find crumbs at some checkpoints, but in fact there was something to scoff at all of them, and most of it welcome. I even ate the squares of cheese and pineapple just after Hewenden Viaduct even though the cheese was weeping in the heat and the flies were loving it. 
By Denholme, we were over half-way. It had got hotter and hotter: I put a buff on my head which may have been daft, especially as I was also carrying a cap (a buff is heavier). I made sure to drink lots, and had pee stops, which is always a good sign that I wasn’t just absorbing all the water and therefore not hydrated enough. And on we went, on and on, over track and moor and past llamas (or are they alpacas?).
There were apples from trees and orchards and blackberries, and miles of gorgeous views, and walkers and no wind farms. On Warley Moor there were bogs, and more bogs, and it was what is known as “technical.” I usually love to run through bogs, but even I had to slow, sometimes to a walk. It would have been quite hard to finish a marathon with a bog-twisted ankle.
With about seven miles to go, Sara started to get niggles. She already had problems with her ankle, and then her back started playing up. We slowed it down, and in the same way she had been so kind and considerate when I’d been crippled by stomach pains on our recce, I considered it my job to make it as easy for her as I could to get to the end. I was also finding it tough in the last miles: My feet were battered, but my spirits were actually OK. I’d like to think that my Three Peaks training, though it was so many months ago, has taught my brain to be strong when it’s knackered. So I tried to strike a balance of being encouraging – “we’re on the home stretch” “we’re doing really well” – and accurate “there are 2.5 miles to go” and I hope I managed it without being annoying. The last thing you want when you are tired and in serious discomfort and just want it all to end is someone cheerleading in your face. There are some hills in the last stretch which aren’t that high but feel like mountains, particularly one up to the bracken moor overlooking Haworth. At that point, I felt exhausted and my spirits really sagged. My feet hurt, both the hard skin under my big toes, and my toes were battered. Every time they hit a rock, I cursed. The air over Haworth was blue. I’d tried to greet everyone I passed, but by this point, no chance. Sorry, mountain bikers on the bracken moor. 
By now I realised that 5.30 was out of the question, but I thought we might do 5.45. Really, at that point, it didn’t matter. But as the miles had gone on, it was inevitable that conversation faltered, so I’d had to keep my mind busy somehow. After the bracken, which seemed to go on for miles, it was downhill into Haworth, past a checkpoint where a marshal was bizarrely shirty with us (I only remember him because everyone else had been lovely), along the Worth Way where we passed another marathon pair, one in an Um Bongo vest, along the cobbled road to the bottom of Butt Lane.
It won’t be that bad, FRB had told me of Butt Lane, because there will be loads of people cheering you up. Not if you take six hours to run the marathon, there aren’t. Everyone had left. We made our way up: walking the first very steep stretch, then shuffling up. Two people had remained to cheer, and that was extremely welcome. Thank you. I knew we weren’t last, because I knew that we’d lost several people at Ogden Water. We’d also heard on the way round about the Lost Americans: a group of Americans, or people who had come from America, who, when we got to one checkpoint, were nearly an hour behind us. Afterwards, I found out that one of them had arrived at Manchester airport after an overnight flight, at 8am, dashed to Haworth, started late, and they still ran a full marathon. Respect.
But from the quietness of Butt Lane, the number of runners driving home, I knew we were pretty far back in the field. Never mind. Keep shuffling. Butt Lane is awful, but I think the incline up to the school is worse. You think you’re nearly there, and it just goes on and on and on. But we did it, and FRB took a picture which shows us running in perfect sync, no sagging hips or flailing feet.
Past the first entrance, to the second entrance, down the steps, along the passageway, to the main entrance and
Six hours and forty-eight seconds.
I’m proud we got round, and I loved running as a pair. I really appreciated Sara’s company, and I’d recommend running a marathon as a pair, if only for the experience. I’ve run three four marathons now, and for two of them I spent several hours on my own in the middle of crowds of people and often wished for someone to help the miles pass. It can get quite lonely in big city marathons. So running companionship is great. And so is the Yorkshireman: The scenery is magnificent, it’s all runnable, the marshals are delightful, and they give you stew and a t-shirt afterwards (though, annoyingly, my pre-ordered S t-shirt had been taken by someone quicker).
I confess: I wish we’d done it faster but I would, wouldn’t I? And that’s what next year’s race is for.