I’m stubborn. If someone thinks I’ll struggle to do something, then I will work harder to prove them wrong. I know that some people – good friends who I respect – think I’ll struggle to meet the cut-offs for the Three Peaks. And I know they are right, for now. But by the time April 30 comes around, I am determined they will be wrong. So even though I’ve been struggling with awful menopausal mood lows, I’m still training. Like yesterday: it was awful. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think straight. I wanted to weep. I knew the depression was caused by my hormones, because I recognise that kind. I’ve had practice. But even so, I left my studio at 2pm and started running. It wasn’t scenic, as I was running up Meanwood Road, a road that is as grim as Meanwood woods are lovely. My training programme required me to do long hills, namely two slogs up Stonegate Road, another road that’s part of the Leeds half marathon route, a race I have never done and am still not tempted to do. By running from my studio (uphill) rather than from home (downhill), I’d added another long hill. I kept going, through Meanwood, past Waitrose, up and up. A man in a woolly hat turned round when he heard me coming and said, “it’s tough this hill. Go steady!” I thanked him and carried on going steady, up and up, until I could turn and run downhill again, through children leaving school, and oblivious parents. I had my usual thoughts of, I wonder what these burqa-clad women think of me in running tights, but then I was past them and who cares anyway.

My plan didn’t require me to go all the way to the bottom of the hill, namely the steep section on which I’ve watched plenty of Leeds half runners struggle and swear. But I did, and I ran whatever mileage it was, all the way to the top. Then, for good luck, and because I felt good, I ran up an even steeper hill on my way home. I was proud of myself, because I’d felt so bad, and now I felt slightly less bad.

I was proud of myself at the weekend too, when I did Ilkley Moor fell race. I hadn’t really given much thought to this, beyond thinking that it was short and not too steep. I didn’t account for the weather and the deviousness of the route planners. The day before, the Met Office told me it would be raining constantly. I don’t mind that. But that there would be gusts of 57mph too. Oh.

FRB wasn’t racing but was going to do his own training run on the moor. He set off, and I sat in the car watching the rain falling and the trees bending. Even so, it was mild and I ran in a long-sleeve top and vest. For the first mile, I thought: this is easy. A stupid and fatalistic thing to think, because then we climbed to the tops. And I nearly fell over. I’ve never been blown off a path before, but I was (thank you to the runner who pulled me back). The wind was brutally strong. It was hard to run through, but I did my best. I’d been given instructions by FRB to keep his team-mate Andrew in sight, which isn’t difficult as Andrew is 6 and a half feet tall and wears a bandana. I did, then overtook him about halfway round, on a descent. People were nervously picking their way down, but I don’t do that. I activate the inner six-year-old who fell out of trees and ran away and was energetic and fearless, and off I go. Of course I fell a few times. My shin hit a rock and hurt, but I carried on, because you do. But FRB popped up a couple of times to cheer me on (and everyone else: he’s a very good supporter). As for the deviousness of the route: it was designed to have as many climbs as possible. Every time I thought we were descending for good, we were going up again.

I finished, in 72 minutes something (I thought it was 73.01 but the official results gave me a few milliseconds more), and thought, those are some of the hardest conditions I’ve ever run in. And they were. A fellow fell-runner commented later that he didn’t think it was brutal, just “testing.” He wasn’t being critical, just pointing out that hard races are the valuable ones. The hard races are what will get me up those peaks.

Here I am realising that 1. it’s over and 2. Soon I will be having hot tea.


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
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:


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:




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:


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:


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.


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




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:



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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I’ve started writing a post for this many times, and stopped many times. I couldn’t really work out what to say that I hadn’t said already: that I was struggling with the after-effects of giving blood, and that I was taking iron and trying to run through it, and that I was running and racing. That’s all true. I’ve done some nice races, and I finally feel like I’m back to normal. Running never feels easy, but now it feels less appallingly hard than it has done for the last month or so. I even managed to beat my speedy team-mate Sheila in the last race, by one second. I’m still rather terrified of the Three Peaks, but I have other things to think about first, like running 22 miles over the moors around Ilkley next weekend. I haven’t run more than 15 miles, and it’s too late to do much about that. But my paces are getting better, and it no longer feels like I’m running at altitude or through treacle.

I’m enjoying running again. I enjoy outside, rain, weather, wind, mud. I bought some lovely new shoes from Inov-8 and was sent two pairs of lovely new shoes from Brooks:IMG_6919

And I headed off to do the Stanbury Splash, a 6 mile or so fell race over Haworth moors. It’s organized by Woodentops, who did Auld Lang Syne. I did it last year, and the route was diverted because of snow and ice. The normal route goes through a few becks, one with a steep drop. This year was exactly the same: snow and ice. So the route was changed to that of the Stoop, another Woodentops race. It’s all immaterial to me because I never remember routes. No matter how many times FRB looks at me in bafflement with his perfect topographical memory because I don’t remember that the route turns left at the farm after the second copse of trees, I don’t remember. FRB wasn’t running as he’d done the 22 mile Hebden fell race the day before. Though he was tempted.

It was the usual procedure: try to park as close as possible without having a four wheel drive car. Get to the cricket club hut and pick up your number. The Stanbury Splash is sponsored by Soreen so you also get a couple of snack-sized Soreen. But this year’s sponsorship consisted of banana flavour which, frankly, I’m not surprised Soreen wanted rid of. Then, back to the car to sit in the warmth and put off getting out into the cold as much as possible. The usual “how many layers” sartorial discussion. It was too cold for vest only, so I went for this:



Yes, those shorts do not make a legs apart pose the most flattering, I know. I’m working on it. I had my new gorgeous Montane mittens on, my new Inov-8s and my usual race calf sleeves. I was ready. We started in the quarry as usual, and then it was up and up and up, and through bogs, up to the ridge line. We apparently passed the standing stone of the Stoop, but I didn’t see it. Then, a hurtle down a boggy hillside. There was no path. Everyone was just doing their best to go as fast as possible while perfectly judging how deep the next bog would be. I got it wrong.



I put my foot into a bog and it went deeper than I expected. I lost my footing. That’s pretty normal in fell running and I didn’t mind at all. But the trouble with icy bogs is they bite you. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but somehow my legs were cut and bruised. The next day they looked like this:



I have no idea what caused that parallel line bruising. I presume the long scrape is an ice scrape. I posted this picture to the FRA facebook page and someone suggested that “it is something to do with the flesh being compressed at the point of impact and the blood gets pushed hard through the capillaries on either side so lots of them burst but the ones at the point of impact are ok…or something.” That makes sense. Oddly, it didn’t hurt. And I felt oddly proud to be finishing with proper bloody legs, which is daft. But what I never felt was fear. The only thing that scares me on fell races is how badly I will do and whether I will come last. Yet people still have an image of fell running as macho and terrifying and dangerous. They think that anyone who runs in the fells or mountains sprints up the steepest of inclines without bother, like a goat. That’s not true. Fell running is whatever you want it to be. Walk the inclines if you want. Crawl them if you want. The point is to be outside in nature and to love the fells, whether they attack you or not. I’ve only ever had one negative experience fell-running, when someone was ruder than she needed to be. Of course at the front of the pack there are devastatingly fit people – men and women – who do sprint up inclines like goats. But I don’t feel any pressure to do that. I walk inclines if I need to. So do much faster people. If running an incline will drain you so you can’t run at the top, there’s little point running it. In many fell racers, you finish in the last quarter of finishers, as I do, and men and women who finished way way ahead of you will loop back to support and clap you home. Even people like Ben Mounsey, an amazing runner and one of the nicest men in sport.

Injuries heal. The mental soothing you get by running outside in snow and ice and air and weather makes all the blood worth it.