I grew up in Dewsbury. Spen was where we went when we didn’t want to go to Dewsbury Baths. It was a slightly exotic swimming pool, a few miles up the road from our house. I don’t know Spenborough well apart from the baths and the track, which I ran on during a short-lived attendance at Spen AC. In my adult, back-in-Yorkshire life, I’ve been to Spen a few times to run off-road races: a couple of PECOs, a Yorkshire Vets or two. But I’d never been attracted by the Spen 20, a road race that my club-mates variously described as “hilly” “really hilly” or “bloody awful.”

FRB though thought it was a good addition to the training plan. Hills and more hills, plus the chance to concentrate on form because for once I’d be running on terrain that didn’t require me to look constantly at my feet. So we signed up to Spen 20, and then I sort of forgot about it. The week before, I had a wonderful stress dream about it in which Dave Woodhead of Woodentops was organising a Spen 20 which was actually Rombalds but worse. And I couldn’t get to the start in time despite desperate dream-long efforts and being able to fly. I woke up a bit unsettled and thinking, how on earth am I going to run 20 miles on Sunday? But then I thought about it. In February I did Rombald’s, which was shorter in distance but more time on my feet. I’ve done long runs and hard fell runs. I should be fine.

I bought some Beet-it beetroot shot, which is the most disgusting thing to drink but works. It supplies nitrites which increase the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. I suppose it’s legal EPO. Or meldonium. The trouble is, it made me gip even to think about it, until I discovered that mixing it with neat blackcurrant cordial made it almost palatable. So I started taking that on Friday, the another on the Saturday morning. It was strange, preparing for a long road race. I haven’t done one since the Yorkshire marathon in October. I train on roads, obviously, but haven’t done more than 15 miles for a while. I didn’t quite know which shoes to wear. Brooks Pure Flow are my road shoes, but I hadn’t tested them beyond 15 miles. I thought maybe I should have the more cushioned Ghosts, but the last time I wore them, on a club training run, my tendon hated them. So I chose the more minimal Pure Flow, my Injinji toe socks, and hoped for the best. I packed a selection of High-5 gels, that I’ve used ever since I began using gels. I chose a couple of normal ones and a couple of caffeine ones, and ignored the mojito ones which are horrible.

The weather forecast was good: clear skies and 9 degrees. Even so, I thought I might wear an extra layer under my vest, until I got to Spenborough and saw how many people were running in vests and shorts, and thought it daft that I was going to wear an extra layer to run in a road race that looked like it would be warm, when I ran a marathon in fog in a vest. So, vest, shorts, rainbow socks, bum-bag with gels, a bottle of water, as the only reliable information on how many water stations there were going to be was FRB’s memory. That is usually reliable, but even so. I knew I would need water. (The water station was marked on the map at the club-house, but that’s not much use for preparation.)

Spen 20 became nationally notorious last year after the Nettygate scandal. So I’d have expected them to have had clear race instructions on their website about cut-offs, and water stations and other things you like to know in a long race. But there was nothing. In the queue for the women’s toilets, people said that there was a 3.30 cut-off time, in that the marshals would withdraw then but you could carry on running if you liked. As there were no road closures and we were running alongside traffic the whole time, I don’t suppose the presence of marshals would have made a difference if you knew your way. Still, such a lack of information after last year was just bizarre.

We started on the track and as usual couldn’t hear what the race organiser was saying: Spen AC, please invest in a loud-hailer. One lap of the track and then onto the roads. I’d been told the first four miles were uphill, and that the first ten were the hardest. But actually, I didn’t mind the hills. I must have done enough of them by now that they seem normal. In fact, I like them. I LIKE HILLS. I tried to keep my pace steady at about 9 minute miles, but it was all over the place. So I tucked in behind Jenny from Pudsey Pacers and stayed there for a while, until about mile 4, when I ran ahead. I felt really good. I felt strong and able, and I attributed that to the beetroot.

The weather was beautiful. The sun was shining, the skies were clear, but the temperature was fine. I was sweating profusely for the first four miles, but after that cooled down and was comfortable for the rest of the race. I mean, my temperature was comfortable. At mile 10, I turned round to find Jenny right behind me. She said, right, that’s the hard bit done. Now there are some nice bits. I don’t remember it being harder or not, just long stretches of road, including a long downhill along Clifton Road where countless cars went past at bloody stupid speeds. I remember really cheery marshals, including women with shoulder-length blonde hair wearing hats, who seemed to be everywhere. Maybe I was in a Charlie Kaufman film. (FRB said afterwards they had marshalled the first three miles then moved, and there were loops). There was one water station which we went past three times. And it was a really nice route. The weather helped. There was some lovely scenery when we got high up, and a man doing his garden, and still doing it five miles later, when I managed to realise he’d made some good progress on his flower-bed. My club-mate Catherine, who has for the last year been faster than me, was ahead of me for the first few miles, then I was ahead of her, and then she overtook me again. I kept close to her for miles and miles, and felt good about that, but then it all went array.

At the second water stop, I took a caffeine gel. And everything went very wrong. For the next ten miles, I had nasty stomach cramps. I didn’t know whether I wanted to vomit or do something else, but did neither, and just felt crappy for ten miles. The only hill I didn’t run all the way up was one where I had to stop and bend over and see what would happen. Nothing except burps, which was nice. So I carried on running. At one point, at about mile 14, I counted all the things that were niggling me:

  • I had blisters on my right foot
  • My left hip ached
  • My toes hurt
  • My feet ached
  • My right shoulder ached
  • My armpits were seriously chafing
  • I felt sick or about to mess myself and I couldn’t tell which

In short, I felt sorry for myself. I began thinking, I hate roads. It felt like a long pounding assault on my feet and legs, and I didn’t like it. I began thinking, I wish I were on a fell. And then I got a grip, and told myself, put a smile on your face, which I did and hopefully alarmed some of the passing drivers, especially the speeding ones. I didn’t enjoy the next few miles, but I tried to concentrate on my form: torso erect, head being pulled up to the clouds, arms relaxed going forward and sharp and straight going backwards, for power. Short steps on the hills – mine were so short, I was mincing – and longer strides and arms akimbo on the downhills. That stretch felt so very very long, but eventually it was mile 18 and then 19. Jenny had told me to expect a hill at mile 19 but it wasn’t bad, just a short steep one and then blessed downhill. Not that downhill was blessed at that point; I was so tired my downhill pace was the same as my uphill pace, which is not quite how it’s meant to work. Anyway, down, down, down into Spenborough, then a corner to turn – which is when one of my blisters burst – then a slog along to the athletics track. FRB was out to cheer me on, as was my club mate Adam. I remember FRB saying, last two minutes. And Adam saying something but I was almost delirious by that point and just remember his face making encouraging shapes. I was hoping the finish line was in the car park but of course there was 300 metres to run along the track, which felt so lovely and bouncy on my poor bruised feet that it almost felt enjoyable.

To prove I don’t always run on glorious fells but sometimes in car parks:


My time was 3:02. You’d expect me to be annoyed at not getting under 3 hours, but I’m not, because the only other 20 mile race I’ve done was the significantly flatter East Hull 20, and I did that when I was fitter, in 3:06. So a four minute PB on a course which means four minutes counts as ten: Well done me.

FRB, delightfully, came to greet me with two cups of juice, which I drank. Then I stood, and apparently looked “a bit zombie” because he looked a little alarmed, then went to fetch me chocolate milk, and insisted I ate a Jaffa cake. I didn’t want a second, because my stomach was still swimming, but he said, “take a bite,” and I did, and I’m glad I did.

The presentations were done outside the club-house. For some reason the men’s and women’s were separated by about 20 minutes. And the top ten male finishers had their times read out, while the women didn’t. Also, they didn’t have a prize for the winning V60 woman, while they did for the men. Hmmm.

But all in all, Spen AC did well. They must have been wanting to, after last year’s scandal. I don’t think Nettie was running this year. For a road race, it was nice and testing. Now I’d just like some new feet: though I finally realised how wonderful these Oofos recovery sandals are (given to me by the lovely Veggie Runners). I had no idea why they were called recovery sandals until I put them on when my feet desperately needed to recover, and the Oofos felt like supportive marshmallows.

I’m off back to the fells.




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Stan Bradshaw

I didn’t want to run. Not at all. Not remotely. I woke up at 7am with a pounding headache and having had the worst night of sleep in a month. It’s been a month since I started getting night sweats, which for those of you who have never had them, is like running a race several times a night, so you pour sweat, wake up boiling, fall asleep, then wake up freezing because you have been sleeping for an hour or so in cold sweat.

It sucks and I hate it. These days I rarely wake up without feeling sleep-deprived, and am grumpy because of that. Plus the lovely menopausal depression. All in all, the last thing I felt like doing was getting in my car and driving all the way to Lancashire to run nine miles over a very big hill.

But I did. Because in the depths of my morning fury and sleep-deprivedness, I managed to remember that running is the only thing that makes me feel better. It is a cliche now to say that you never regret a run but you will probably regret not running. But it’s true. So I ate crumpets, packed my kit, and set off, picking up on the way FRB plus his club-mate Ben and Ben’s girlfriend Amy, who was coming to support. The Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round starts in the village of Barley, where I’ve been to three times now: once to support FRB doing Tour of Pendle, and twice to run. As we drove over the border and over hills, Pendle hill suddenly came into view. Oh, I said. I’d forgotten how big it is.

Barley is a pretty village, with two major attractions apart from the magnificent Pendle hill rising behind it: free public toilets, and a warm village hall with a cafe and more toilets. We went to register, had tea and Amy’s muffins, then back to the car to change. Amy set off, wearing about four layers. It was cold but not as much as I’d expected. But the route had been changed because the snow had made one bit difficult, and the hill, looming behind Barley, was white. I wore vest, base layer, shorts and gloves, as usual, and Inov-8 Mudclaws for the snow. A few more toilet visits, a check that I had everything in my bum bag – full kit was required, and there were kit checks – and we gathered up the lane from the village hall. Craig, who had organised the race, gave some instructions. He said, we’ve ordered the sun for you, as the sun was shining. The atmosphere was amiable, at least where I was in the pack. I’d tapped a woman on the shoulder as I got to the start, and she turned and said fiercely “WHAT?” I said in a small voice, “I just wanted to tell you I like your buff” because it was a map buff of the Three Peaks, and she looked mortified and said, “I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t have been so rude, but I thought you were my sister.”

We set off. Steady, steady, steady. I don’t remember much about race routes, but I do remember that there is a long slog up the track at the beginning of Stan Bradshaw, followed by a long climb up the hill. I ran the track, then it was a long walk. Even FRB took 20 minutes to do the hill. The going was OK: there was snow and bogs, which made it, er, interesting, as you can put your foot on snow and find your leg sinks knee-deep in a bog. At the top, it was runnable again, and the views were beautiful. I didn’t want to stop to take photos, but then I did anyway:


There was a long stretch of downhill then, which we deserved (though FRB will probably tell me there were another two climbs that I’ve forgotten about). Apart from the snow, I remember the following:

A lone marshal with his son at a cairn or something
Dave Woodhead crouching down with his camera, and he called me Rose instead of Rosie, and was as encouraging as he always is
A few deep steps into bogs, but no falls or bleeding injuries for once

I thought that as usual I’d be able to pick off a few places in the downhill, but actually I didn’t, much. I never once looked behind, because that’s my new vow. Orpheus the fell-runner. There was a steep descent down to a reservoir, which I remembered, then a run along a tarmac track, which I remembered, then a short sharp climb up to the tops, then a few more climbs. The revised route was longer but it missed out 200 feet of climb. There was a lot of this:


There was also a stretch through a wood, which was a) dark and hard to see your feet and b) the worst kind of surface – wet stone – for fell shoes. I went as fast as I could, but I was glad to get out of it. At the next checkpoint, I glimpsed a woman being held by some marshals, and heard a marshal say that they would walk her somewhere. Later, an ambulance came zooming into the village, and I heard that she’d broken her ankle in the woods. Get well soon, whoever you are.

Somehow on the last mile, down the path to the village, I managed a sort of sprint. I overtook two women who were running together and said, “come on ladies,” and they grinned and sped up a bit. But I sped up a bit more and though they were loudly cheered in – COME ON RUTH – they didn’t catch me. FRB and Ben were waiting a wee bit up from the finish, and also encouraged me, but they didn’t get much reaction because I was running at 7.05 minute mile pace and I was puffed.

So did I do better than last year? 9.3 miles last year, more climb, and I did 1:57 and came 165th out of 180 runners. This year it was 9.5 miles, my time was 1:49, I was 170th out of 205 runners, but there was 200 feet fewer of climb.

I have no idea. It’s making my head hurt trying to work it out. All good training.

I forgot to mention another attraction of Barley: it’s got a natural shoe-washing machine:


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High Cup Nick, the return

It was in the calendar, but it depended on weather. Driving to Ilkley a few miles away to run through gales and rain is one thing: driving two hours to Westmorland in Cumbria is another matter. But in the end the forecast was good. It was so good, it was perfect: a cool but not cold temperature, good visibility, dry and with winds of 3mph, not 53. So FRB and I decided to do the race, because it’s a cracker. Up the A1, then onto the A66, over Penrith way, then to Appleby for petrol, which we bought from an agricultural supplies place. Farming is so foreign to me, I gaze at everything in places like that. Suzuki quad bikes; tractor lights; sheep supplies. But then, Cumbria is foreign to me. We had a couple of family holidays here, but I don’t know it well, and I look at Cumbrian residents with envy, as if they are otherworldly creatures, because they can walk out of their door and run up a most magnificent fell, with ease. Of course I’m not complaining, when I can be up on Ilkley Moor in half an hour. But still: a fell on your doorstep is an amazing thing to have.

The race HQ is in Dufton village, because it’s organised by the lovely Morgan Donnelly, a champion fell runner who lives in Dufton and who has the rosiest cheeks in fell running (so I think of him as Fellrunning Noddy. Sorry, Morgan). It is sponsored by Inov-8, probably because Morgan is too, but there’s no sense of it being a glamorous, richly sponsored race. It’s like most fell races: low-key, friendly, welcoming. That doesn’t stop me being absurdly nervous before each race, no matter what, and the same happened here. I get uptight and worried, that I won’t be able to run or I’ll be slow. Maybe I should go off and meditate before a race, but I’d be too nervous to concentrate.

The HQ is in the village hall, so we parked where we could then went to register. £7 this year, £6 last year. Presumably the rise is due to how much the race has to pay farmers to run through their land. But it doesn’t matter: Cumbria needs all the extra pounds it can get to recover from the floods. Despite initial difficulties – we set off in my car then found it had a flat tyre, so back home to swap cars – we’d arrived in plenty of time. The race start was at 2pm which is civilised but means you have to think about food. So at 12.30, I began eating my cheese sandwich whether I wanted to or not. Then some Soreen, some coffee, several toilet visits, changing into my kit. I decided on long-sleeves, vest, shorts, rainbow socks, and this great Ilkla Moor bah’t’at buff that I won by doing the Ilkley Moor race:


Most of the entrants would probably be from the Cumbrian fell clubs – Keswick, Borrowdale, Cumbria Fell Runners – though there was a Dark Peak or two from Sheffield too. After my last toilet visit – thank you Dufton Village for your clean and toilet-paper-stocked public toilets – we headed down to the start, which was a gathering and loitering on the village green. To our left was the looming peak of Dufton Pike. But we weren’t going to run up that. Instead, once Morgan had said a few words, though I’ve no idea what they were as he’s so quietly spoken, then said “on your marks, get set, go”, also quietly, off we went. Through the village, along half a mile or so of road, then into farmers’ fields.

I felt dreadful. I felt exactly as I’d done at the last Parkrun, that I was not far from DNF-ing. I felt like I was running slowly, and that my legs lacked any energy. And that was just the first mile. The first four miles of the race are over fields and then up the glorious, glorious valley of High Cup Nick:


It is glorious to look at, and glorious in its breathtaking geology. It’s known as a geological wonder, and is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and we were being allowed to run through it. Amazing. So although my legs felt like lead, I kept gazing about me, and I was knackered but content. At the further end of the valley, as we approached the climb, there were more bogs. They were exhausting, and I slowed and slowed. Last year I’d run this race with jet lag, having flown back from Haiti a couple of days earlier, on a sleepless overnight flight. I’d felt sluggish last year and didn’t feel much better this time. Later, when I told FRB how awful I’d felt, he said, it’s all uphill. It just looks flat. Oh.

A runner overtook me on the boggy section, then turned and said, “I liked your blog”. Huh? I said, “thanks. who are you?” He said he was a lurker, not a commenter, and his name was Jonathan, and that he’d found this blog while looking for reports of High Cup Nick. He said he’d recognised me by my socks. Then he overtook me and I didn’t see him again. Hello, Jonathan.

Finally we reached the bottom of the climb up the Nick. I don’t think anyone runs this. By this time I’d realised that I’d forgotten to switch the activity settings on my Garmin from bike to run, and so I would probably be the only person alive who, at least according to Garmin and Strava, cycled straight up this:


But I had other things to think about, like where my feet and hands went. Yes, some of it was on all fours, because it looks like this:



It wasn’t as bad as it looks, though. I enjoyed it. I tried to chat to other runners but most were too puffed to speak. “Sorry,” said one, “I don’t want to be rude, but I just can’t talk.” I made sure to stop and take pictures because when I’m somewhere that beautiful, it’s criminal not to.


Someone on the FRA Facebook page said she hadn’t had chance to see the view. I find that baffling: I think that’s a major reason to run on the fells. I always allow for gawping points, even if it’s just a few seconds. Near the summit, I stood on a narrow shelf of rock, leaned back against the rock face for safety and dared to look down. I don’t have a good head for heights, and we were very high up a very sheer rock face. It was rather terrifying, but so stunning. Then I climbed the last few metres to the top, greeted the marshal with “the best socks in the race are arriving” which he, reasonably, ignored. Then somehow I had to get my legs to work for the next four miles. Unlike last year, there was no ferocious headwind, so I carried on as best I could. Along the way I had a nice conversation with a woman about her rather cool Spiderman-like leggings (they are Shock Absorber). She said she’d lost her running mojo and thought that buying new kit might get her back on track. As she was at that point running steadily in a difficult fell race having just climbed up High Cup Nick, I think her tactic was working. I overtook her anyway. I love downhills, even though I can’t always see the ground properly, as my eyesight is rickety, and my eyes water. But that doesn’t stop me: activate the inner eight-year-old, and GO.

It’s a wonderful four miles, as enjoyable as the bogs were not. I got plenty of cheers on the way down, and when I ran past one group of walkers a man called after me, “Kirkstall in Leeds?” I said, “yes, I ran up here!” and carried on running.

There’s one point after about three miles of downhill on a track where you have to turn up into some fields and cross them, and suddenly a small incline feels like an enormous peak. I thought it was just me, when my legs suddenly felt like lead and all I’d done was turn into a field. But afterwards everyone said the same. Then, through some more fields and four marshals in succession who said “you’re on the home stretch” or “not far now” which in the case of three was true only in a very elastic sense. There was a short hill before we reached the village, which felt like Mount Everest. Honestly, it was hard. Then back into Dufton, through a back alley, onto the village green, and a sort of sprint to the finish line where Morgan stood with a clipboard.

I got my breath, then sidled up to Morgan and said Kate Carter from the Guardian said hello. They did this video together, in which Morgan describes fell running as running to the top of a hill and back again. Anyway when I said hello from Kate, he said, oh, right, with some surprise, and I wanted to get a selfie with him but I was too embarrassed to ask. I couldn’t care less about getting pictures with celebrities. I have no interest in signed editions of books. But around Morgan, Victoria Wilkinson, Ricky Lightfoot, I’m like a Harry Potter fan in front of Daniel Radcliffe. Ricky won the race, beating his record, and Victoria was the first woman back. Once I’d changed and warmed up, FRB and I headed to the village hall for soup and roll, then hot tea and cake. It was packed, though by the time the presentations were done a lot of people had left. Victoria was still there, and I gazed at her with wonder: how is she so good? How did she get to be so fast? How can I get faster? The usual thoughts. If I met her, I’m sure I’d babble like an awestruck fan. And she’d look at me like I was nuts.

No prizes for me, of course. But when I’d told FRB my time he said, I looked up your time from last year. This year you were eight minutes faster. Eight minutes! Some of that could be because of last year’s jet lag and some because of headwind, but not all of it. So although I’d felt crap, I did great. And though I worried as usual about being last, I came in about 60th from the back. Which shows the gulf between self-assessment of one’s worth and ability and actual worth and ability is as wide as the mouth of the rocks that opened millions of years ago to form High Cup Nick. I’ll try to remember that.

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