Where, oh, where is Widdop?

I had never heard of it until FRB said it might be a good one for my first fell race after injury I decided it was a good idea, having looked for midweek near-ish fell race as my first one back. (Quote from FRB, having read this: “Why would I recommend a race I’ve never run?” Good point. Sorry.)

Proper fell, I mean. I’ve done cross-country and trail and road and fields. But I’ve been nervous about the fells, because they can be twisty and technical. But my mind fixed upon Widdop, even after I’d found out where it was: beyond Hebden Bridge, beyond Heptonstall, up, up to the tops and keep going. It took us over an hour to get there from west Leeds, and I’d already driven 45 minutes to get to west Leeds from my house in evening traffic. So I had decided, on a mid-week evening, to drive for two hours to run for seven miles. Yes. And I am very glad I did.

We got there at 6:40. The race HQ was a shed in the car park of the Pack Horse pub at Widdop. I write “at Widdop” but there seemed to be nothing at Widdop but the Pack Horse pub and moor, moor and more moor. We weren’t the last, but both of us were anxious. FRB doesn’t like being late, and certainly not for races, and I was nervous because it was my first fell run in so long, because I wasn’t sure how my tendon would react to it, and because I was sure I would come last or nearly. We paid the huge entry fee – £4 – and I headed for the toilets in the pub. In the queue, a woman in Clayton-le-Moors kit (a big fell-running club in Lancashire) told me she had been going to run but had wimped out because she knew she’d be last. I said, no, no, you won’t be – how on earth did I know? – and even if you are, I’ll be in the back-pack with you. Really? she said, and I next saw her outside with a race number on. There were hardly any runners from Leeds there. In those parts, most runners were from the borders or beyond. Calder Valley, who are based in Mytholmroyd and who were organizing the race, and Trawden, Clayton-le-Moors, Todmorden, Baildon, Wharfedale. I was the only Kirkstall Harrier, FRB was the only Pudsey Pacer and our mate Reena, a pint-sized ninja runner who I used to be able to keep up with, and who I met on one of the ten mile races a couple of years ago, when we had a long conversation about Diwali, was the only one in Eccleshill blue.

I put on my lucky race striped socks (though FRB persists in calling them “hooped”). I’d had my scalded hand re-dressed that day by the nurse, and when I told her I would be running a fell-race that night, she put another bandage on top of it. She advised me to wear gloves, but it was so hot, I compromised with one glove, thus managing to look like Michael Jackson in clown socks. We’d had the usual Shoe Discussion earlier: fell or trail? Will it be dry or wet? Will there be mud and bog on the tops? Isn’t there always mud and bog on the tops? But it was so dry, in the end I chose my beloved Brooks PureGrit, a decision I slightly regretted at the start when I was surrounded by 360 degree Inov-8 Mudclaws-shod feet. By then it was too late.


The race start was in the road outside the pub. There was some milling, then a swift parting of the crowd when a car drove down, then back to milling. A Scottish Calder Valley man gave us guidelines, such as they were: there was no kit requirement though they recommended carrying a waterproof. I can’t remember what else he said because suddenly he said very quickly, “3, 2, 1, go.”

And we went. Downhill down the road first, past the field where the juniors had run their races. At this point I will remind you that my visual memory of races is very poor. I can remember bits, but rarely in the right order. But I remember we ran down the road, then turned left onto track, and there was one bottleneck, then another and another. “Never mind,” said a man from Baildon running just behind me, “we’re not in a rush, are we?” I wasn’t in a rush but despite my new habit of putting my ego in a box, I didn’t want to be last. I really didn’t want to be last. There’s no reason for that but pride, and it’s daft, but so it was.

The paths were grassy, and then the tussocks started. I’d not accounted for tussocks. They were frequent from then on, and my ankles didn’t like them. I’d put a comment on my club Facebook page that I was going to do the race, and one of my clubmates, a nurse, had replied that she’d done it last year and it was very tussocky and might not be good for my ankle. But I didn’t see that until I was lying on FRB’s sofa with an ice-pack on my ankle.

I wanted to try to run all the climbs, but I didn’t even manage the first one. I felt OK, but not superwoman, and not as strong as I’d felt on Eccup 10. I’m pretty sure the answer to getting more strength is eating chips the night before. I’m not joking. Whenever I’ve had chips before a race, I’ve run better. Or so I tell myself. Anyway I kept going. I’d forgotten my Garmin but FRB had lent me his, though he said, don’t even bother thinking about pace, it’s just so you can see what distance you’ve done. I looked at it at mile 1.6, and again at mile 6.7 and that was it. The rest of the time I was busy getting round. For much of it, my head and eyes were down, looking for tussocks. There were tussocks, but also deep channels, mud, rocks. At that point I was glad I’d chosen the PureGrit, because Inov-8 Mudclaws are wonderful in mud, but terrible on rock. The PureGrit were great in both. The weather was glorious: perfect temperature and beautiful sunshine, and the scenery, when I remembered to look up and look it was so very beautiful. At one point we climbed a hill and over the other side was a deep blue reservoir, and I thought, what a strange thing to do, to drive two hours to run seven miles over moorland, but also what a bloody privilege. And then I was busy getting up another climb.

After that climb, I think, was a long stretch of ground that fell-runners would call “technical.” Technical means tricky. It means having both to think about where to put your feet and also to watch to check you’ve put them there. After a mile or so of this technical, tussocky running, I was upset. I was upset because I was worried about my ankle, and I was upset because I had become a fell-runner who is worried and cautious, and I didn’t want to be that. I haven’t really done enough fell races to call myself a fell-runner but I’ve done enough that I know that I love descending and used to do with it abandon, and with no caution. And now here I was picking my way through the boggy, muddy, poorly visible track. I had to walk a lot of it because I couldn’t risk running it and twisting something, and that annoyed me. At one point I was genuinely frustrated and almost angry and then I had a loud word with myself. I mean, out loud. I was running alone by that point; a few people had overtaken me, and there were some women behind who I could hear whenever they crossed a stile behind me, because they were usually laughing. I thought they sounded lovely but I also didn’t want them to catch me, because I’d checked behind a couple of times and it looked to me like I was in the last 20 or so.


It worked. I put a smile on my face, and carried on. I overtook someone at one point, and promptly went flying with a proper head over heels tumble. He helped me up – thank you, fellow runner – and I said, “that’s how you overtake someone with style” and then pelted off because I didn’t want the embarrassment of him catching me up when I’d actually managed to overtake him.

On the way up to the race, up a very steep road, FRB had seen flag-poles and said, oh dear, I think the race finishes up here. After a last long descent through lots of bracken, which was fun, we hit a road, and there was that steep bit. I thought, oh god, we’re going to have to go for a mile up that road to the finish and as I got to the bend after a steep climb I said to a marshal, “who on earth designed this course?” which was deeply ungrateful of me because it’s a beautiful course, and anyway at that point the route turned off the road and into more bracken. The path ran along the edge of a ridge and it was like being a long, endless jungle. I looked at my watch and saw I’d done more than seven miles, which I thought the race was, but the path kept going. There was no-one near me, just me and poles with ribbons marking the route, and boulders, and bracken, and the evening sun. It was a quite surreal but ethereal mile or so. It probably wasn’t that long, but it seemed ages until I heard “COME ON PURPLE WOMAN!” (my club vest is purple) from some kids waiting on a big rock with their mum. I said, thanks! and the finish was another five minutes or so. The next I heard was COME ON ROSE from FRB, then over a stile into a field, up the field to the finish, two poles marking a funnel made from tape. I can usually smile when I’m finishing a race, but not this time. I was too thirsty, too tired. But it was beautiful. So beautiful.

We could have stayed for presentations, but our plan had been CHIPS. So I can now inform you that if you leave a race at 9pm in the Calder Valley, you will not find a chip shop open in Hebden Bridge, nor in Friendly. But carry on to Halifax, stop in King Cross Road, and go to Mother Hubbard’s famous chip shop. They will give you a bap the size of a loaf, some superb chips, and I recommend you scoff what you can, drink a can of Ben Shaw’s Dandelion & Burdock as quickly as you can, then go home, ice your ankle and sleep the sleep of the blessed.

Oh, results? FRB had said, try for under 1:30 and if you can, sneak in under 1:25. I did 1:25 on the nose. Calder Valley have mixed me and FRB up on the results, so for a while I was delighted to have come in 59th out of 114. But of course I didn’t. I was 101st. Last 20, but who cares?

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Small steps, keep going

Mojo. Mine’s gone missing. It’s weird, because I’ve been racing, and loving it. But in my few months of not running, I’ve lost a trigger that I used to have. Before, I would never find an excuse not to run. I would read pieces in running magazines and blogs explaining to people how they should motivate themselves to get out of the door, and I could never understand it. Why would you not want to run? I ran in rain, cold, darkness, whatever. If I planned to go to a club training session, I never missed it.

Not any more. Last week I ran the Yorkshire Vets race on Tuesday and that was it. My plan called for two more five mile runs, and I did neither of them. I walked on my treadmill, I did a kettlebell class, but no running. What are my excuses? Well, I was blindsided by an unexpected and very heavy period. My periods are erratic now that I’m in the perimenopause, and I can’t predict them any more: months of nothing, then ten days of heavy blood loss. This one was heavy and painful, and though I can usually run throughout my period, I didn’t want to. On the weekend, when I thought I would run, I spent all day Saturday and Sunday at East Street Arts where we had an open weekend. But that’s an excuse, I could have run in the mornings. Maybe it was because I fell down the stairs? I’d had three glasses of wine, got myself a cup of tea, and started off upstairs with no lights on. I reached for the banister, missed it, and went flying back into the kitchen. Result: I didn’t die, though my head only just missed the corner of the sink unit, but I did scald my hand badly. I ran it under a cold tap, but I was tired and wanted to sleep so went to bed. Mistake. The throbbing and stinging got so bad that I googled the nearest A&E, then didn’t go. Instead, I dunked my hand in cold water for ten minutes, then found an insect bite soothing gel that calmed down the heat enough so I could sleep. I got burn plasters from Boots and that, I thought was that, until on Sunday it started to look angry. It was dark purple and there was a line of dark red leading down towards my wrist. So, to the walk-in centre in Burmantofts, which was busy:


The nurse was lovely. She started telling me about a book she wants to write, and unlike many people who tell me about books they want to write, hers sounded fascinating. She laughed when I told her I’d fallen down the stairs backwards with no lights on with a cup of tea, then said, “I’m laughing with you, not at you.” And she said my burn – actually, as it was caused by liquid, it’s a scald – was infected. The red line snaking down my hand to my wrist was infection. Boots burn plasters, it turns out, Boots pharmacist woman, should not get wet. She put a dressing on my hand, bandaged it, told me to keep it dry at all costs, to get it re-dressed mid-week and prepared to set me forth. I said, “can I run?” She looked surprised. Yes, of course.

But I didn’t. On Monday I had a horrible day of depression. I got myself to my studio but not for long and soon retreated back home. All day. I kept meaning to go to training but the thought of having to run seven miles while chatting did not appeal. I didn’t go. I told myself that I should go and run on my own, but I didn’t do that either. Instead, I went to my allotment and built bean supports and harvested things. I came home and made gooseberry pie, and a quinoa and feta stuffed mushroom thing. And I went to bed and read a beautiful book and waited for the next day to come, as is my usual practice on one of the black days. The next day, I told myself, I would run.

And I did. I woke up at 5, when my cat woke me, dozed until 6.30, and was outdoors with my running kit on by 7. I absolutely did not feel like running. I’d eaten nothing, and drunk nothing. It was a stupid way to set off running, but I did anyway. I thought I’d do a gentle jog, but then I decided to run up the steep hill in Little Switzerland. Small steps, keep going, and I got to the top without stopping. Hurrah. I ran to Roundhay Park, and round the lake, and round the little lake, and up Hill 60 – small steps, keep going – and I did it without stopping. I ran back to Little Switzerland along Lidgett Lane, past the schoolkids now on their way to school, as my gentle jog had not been gentle, but nor had it been particularly quick, and the world had now fully woken up. I got to the bottom of Bracken Hill Woods and thought, I’m quite enjoying the hills, so I ran back up it again. I have never done that. Up, back down, then along to Chapel Allerton park, another steep hill, and I ran up that too.

Goodness. Maybe running on no fuel is something I should do more often.

And my injury? I just strapped a Garmin on it and kept going. Small steps.

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I saw Lucy the physio yesterday. She smiled a lot at my progress, and I’ve been discharged. Hurrah. Not that there aren’t things to work on: she still doesn’t understand my mysterious hip pain that I’ve had for years, which happens only when I’m sitting for a long time or lying on it, but not while moving. She dug her fingers into my q10 muscle in my back again, and it screamed a bit. But she’s very happy with the progress of my tendon, and so off I go to be cautious but a runner. Thank you, Coach House Physio.

So off I went to race again. Except, I was exhausted. After Eccup 10 on Sunday, I should have had a day of rest. And I did, sort of, apart from walking 5 miles on the treadmill, a Pilates class, and then a two mile cycle home. On Tuesday, it was the fifth race in the Yorkshire Veterans series. I love the Yorkshire vets, as I’ve written loads of times. I love being overtaken by 60 year olds, because it gives me hope that when I’m 60, I’ll be overtaking 45 year olds. This one was at Crossgates, a not particularly lovely area of Leeds. It’s where the Vickers tank factory used to be, and the factory is still there, forlorn, along with the tank testing track in the car park. The race was hosted by St. Theresa’s running club (STAC). I ran it two years ago and all I can remember of it is the tank testing track.

We got there early, I did my usual three toilet visits, FRB checked the course route, because he cares about things like that, and I don’t, being of the “just run and follow the person in front with an occasional glance at the scenery” race runner. We walked ten minutes down a field to the start and race-milled. There were about 300 runners, I’d guess, who on a Tuesday evening when they could have been flopped in front of the TV instead chose to come out and run five miles through Yorkshire countryside. The race organizers gave instructions: go up the field, pass between a tree and the fence, loop, down the field and up the hill. Too many “up”s for how I was feeling, which was knackered. It was just one of those days where I had very little energy. Maybe because of my overactive rest day, maybe because of hormones. I don’t know, but it was so bad that I scoffed half a bag of Skittles before I set off, hoping the sugar rush would shove me round the five miles.

Off we went. Up the hill. Over narrow paths that had too many hidden tussocks for my liking. My ego was in the box where it currently belongs, and for a while I was content to be neck and neck with a 60 year old woman. But then my ego peaked out and I ran a bit faster. It was a lovely route, through green fields, on a cool and dry evening. The light and the clouds were beautiful, there weren’t too many hills, there were some dark woods for a bit of excitement (perhaps a bit much for my tendon). I was overtaken by a few team-mates, but my ego was back in the box so that was OK. And I just steamed along, concentrating on my form: head up, torso tall, arms powering back, shoulders relaxed. I felt good. The Skittles must have been working. And god bless STAC for sticking in a water station at half-way, which was very welcome.

The last mile came out of some woods, down a field, down another field, then up the field where we’d started. I kept it steady, tucked in behind a woman from Baildon runners, but then the Kirkstall cheerers started. GO ROSE. COME ON ROSE GEORGE, sung with a football chant tune. Oh, OK then, and I sprinted past the Baildon woman. Another 200 metres to the finish, and there was FRB who had of course long since finished. “TAKE THE STAINLAND!” This meant, there is a runner from Stainland Lions in front of you; go get him. FRB was not meant to be encouraging me to sprint finish, I was not meant to heed him. But I did. A big sprint, I got the Stainland man, and finished in 47.14. The course has changed slightly, but that’s still five minutes slower than my result two years ago, and six minutes slower than a friendly nemesis of mine from another club, who I used to regularly beat. Never mind. I’m running. I read this nice post on Too Fat to Run, begging women to stop describing themselves as slow. We run, and it doesn’t matter at what speed. Yes, I’d like to be as fast and strong as Tanya Seager, who won last night with a time of 32 minutes. But that won’t happen. More, I’d like to be as fast and strong as I can be, and if my fastest for now is slow, with no injury, then that’s fast enough.

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Ten miles, or why and how I love my running club

Since the Pudsey 10K I’ve kept running. No more than three times a week. But I did break my golden rule of not running two days in a row. Last week I went to club training. It was the beginning of the week’s heatwave. There weren’t many of us there; under 20, and the route was not the best: along the canal, but then a big dose of ugly industrial Holbeck, before going up to Armley Park. I found it hard. Partly that was because most people around my pace left after five miles. I thought, nonetheless, I’m going to try the full seven. Half a mile later, I was deeply regretting that. I ran with a clubmate I don’t know very well, and we chatted, but god it was hard. The scenery was horrible, the rest of the group were all speedy blokes, and the hills never stopped. I arrived back at the club somewhat battered. The next day, it was the Danefield Relay, a three mile team relay around Otley Chevin. I did it last year and loved it. Even so, this would break my Golden Rule. I am trying to push my tendon to see what it will tolerate; I’ve increased distance, changed terrain, run slightly faster. This was the first test of frequency. I ran and I was slow – 31 minutes for 3 miles, though with hills – but it was OK. The route was through fields and woods, and was what fell-runners call “technical,” i.e. lots of rocks and roots, in not very good visibility. The next day I paid for it. My tendon was sore. I couldn’t do a deep squat without the soreness kicking in. So, ice and rest.

On Sunday I was meant to run the Eccup 10. I love this race. It’s on mostly closed roads and lanes around Adel and Eccup, with a tour around Eccup reservoir, which I love. But then I did something a bit daft. I installed a treadmill desk. I’ve been thinking of doing it for ages, and finally did, with the help of a friend, a powerdrill and a Jigsaw. I wrote about it, and how I built it, on my serious blog. Walking while working makes all sorts of sense, particularly to a runner. But installing it a) during the hottest temperatures for years and b) with a still slightly dodgy tendon: maybe not the most sensible idea. I didn’t overdo it: I didn’t walk for more than 90 minutes each of the three days I used it. I couldn’t anyway as my studio was so baking hot, I was melting (I’m walking while writing this, at 2mph, with the assistance of a desktop fan). But my right foot and ankle niggled. It was a different niggle: more towards my Achilles than my post tib tendon. On Saturday, it was enough of a niggle that I iced it and worried. I think I was stupid to walk barefoot for the first day, and soon switched to my running shoes and orthotics. On Saturday, I said to FRB, I don’t think I’d better run. Ten miles is too much of a stretch in distance, my Achilles is niggling, and I won’t run.

Then we went to do some allotment work, my mood lifted, and I started saying, I’m going to run, only with a really annoying Forrest Gump impression.

And I did. The next morning, race mode: A bagel with marmalade, as usual. Too much tea, as usual. I wanted the tea to get alert, but I’ve fallen behind with my pelvic floor exercises and knew there was a big risk of peeing my pants. Then again, I had a great and illuminating chat with a few women runners at a party on Friday, which began with one of them saying, “I totally pee my pants all the time!” Her reason, I think, is because she’s super fast. Mine is because my pelvic floor has got as out of condition as the rest of me. Anyway before that there was another slight problem: I’d left my running shoes and orthotics in my office. Oh dear. This was not the best thing to do when FRB gets quite race tense. But to his enormous credit he said, “OK, let’s go,” internalised his anxiety and we called in at the office, and got to race HQ with plenty of time. It took five minutes to pick up my number and then I had no choice but to join the toilet queue, which had about 100 people in it. I thought, oh. It’s going to be a pee and sprint to the start line. It wasn’t, but I only had about five minutes to spare. We gathered and milled, and then we were off. I was so busy trying not to set off too fast that I didn’t even notice Jonny Brownlee waving the flag to start us off. My friend Gemma did though:

GemmaRathbone_2015-Jul-05I set off steadily, at about 9.30 minute/miles, and I kept that going throughout. The first mile, though, was awful, because my bladder lost it. I was embarrassed, and desperately looking for a bush where I could pee without 800 runners watching me, but there was nothing for about a mile, until finally the route went off to the right and to the left was a coppice of trees. What a bloody relief. After that, I was fine, but I lost a couple of minutes. That shouldn’t have mattered: no way was I going to be anywhere near my ten mile PB, which is 1:23. So I stuck my ego in the box and concentrated on running properly: head up, torso straight, slight lean, arms going strongly backwards, shoulders relaxed. I’ve been examining race photos of me, not for vanity, but to check where my feet are going. A splayed right foot means my hip and pelvis need strengthening. I noticed that my pace was similar to a woman who was 50 or 60, so I stuck with her for a few miles. The roads were nice, the temperature, I thought, was perfect: cool, and cloud cover. And I just enjoyed it. There were water stations at miles 3, 5 and 8. I took a gel at the second and third, and I felt fine. I felt good, and strong. I overtook a few of my clubmates, and they all encouraged me, and I stayed steady.

I’d noticed a young lass in front of my Accidental Pacer, who was also going at a really steady pace. I couldn’t catch her for a long time, then with about two miles to go I did. We got chatting. She was running unattached, and said she’d only been running since January. This was the longest distance she’d ever done. She has just moved to Lancashire so I said, there must be some good fell-running clubs there and she said, yes, but clubs are so intimidating. Everyone in them is so fast. I had my usual response: ours is so friendly, everyone is encouraged, no-one is left behind. But I remember when I was unattached – a horrible word – and had entered the Kirkstall 7. I felt completely excluded by all the cliques of club runners in their same colour vests, and they were all talking about PBs and sub this and that. I told myself I would never be like that. But of course I am. Anyway, all that chat got us to the bottom of the last hill. Eccup 10 is a lovely race, but it ends on a hill, which is not lovely. The route has changed this year, in fact, and now there are two climbs at the finish instead of one. But the gels must have been working, because I didn’t walk any of the hills, and I still felt strong with half a mile to go. As we climbed the last hill, the young lass was slowing, and I chivvied her along. Slow steps, stand tall, don’t lean into the hill, it’s easier. And she did. And as we climbed, I heard a faint “ROSE!” then louder and louder, “GO ROSE! WELL DONE ROSE! STRONG FINISH ROSE! GO ROSE GEORGE” and there were a dozen of my team-mates waiting to cheer us in. Some had not run but come along to support anyway, some had finished but come back to support us.
At Danefield Relay, when most teams had finished and gone home, we still had a runner due back. A few of my club-mates went to the finish to cheer her in, because the hill that Danefield finishes on is even worse than Eccup. I thought it was weird that no-one else was about, but assumed they had just gone home. Then, suddenly coming round the corner was not one runner in a purple vest but a dozen. And they were singing. They had all long since finished, but run down the course to escort Bethan up the horrible hill, singing “rolling down the river.” I actually choked. It was a really lovely sight.

KHarriers_2015-Jul-01And so were the Eccup cheerers. So I said to the young lass, whose name was Steph, “See?’ and she said yes, with a look of surprise on her face, and then I said, “come on, sprint finish” and we did, and I beat her.


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