High Cup Nick 2020

High Cup Nick 2020

You’ll be sick of me writing about this race by now. I’ve done it five times, by my count (which is probably off), and I will be doing it again, because it is so astonishingly beautiful. And because the race route serves my skills perfectly: five miles to the top of the Nick, then four miles mostly downhill. So as long as I do OK getting up, I will usually win places going down and as I only ever then lose places if a downhill is followed by a climb, I should be able to keep them. Not that that mattered, particularly, except that a few of my clubmates were also running, and some of us are very well matched for ability and pace, and we have a friendly rivalry. And I am lying about it not mattering: I wanted to beat them.

And I’m writing about it again because my report on the Carnethy 5 is the first running blog post I did since last May, and these days I take any willingness or desire in my brain to write as a gift, and I grab it.

The weather forecast was poor, again. As if last week’s winds were not enough, this week’s were no better. Different forecasts showed different numbers: Mountain Weather Forecast showed 80kph, the BBC showed 45mph, but down in Dufton village. Variously, showers or sleet showers were also predicted. In winds, the A66 can sometimes be closed, so we set off in good time, having checked beforehand (it was closed but only to high-sided vehicles). FRB told me that the A65 was closed though, and that could affect my clubmates. FRB was coming with me even though he hadn’t entered the race. He decided he would go for a run and then aim to be at the top of the Nick to meet runners, depending on the state of his cold (virus) and the cold (blowing a hoolie and temperature).

The parking was in a farmer’s field a ten minute walk from the village hall, previously race HQ but now Cake HQ as the registration was supposed to be in a marquee, but had been shifted to a small barn because the marquee blew away. We got there early but already the state of the field meant spinning wheels, and many people rushing to help spinning cars with a push up to the parking place. It was a cheering sight of the kindness of humans. But the field situation could only get worse the more cars arrived. I left FRB to get ready for his run and walked the long walk to get my number. By the time I got back the rain had set in. The driving, cold, miserable kind of rain.

So I wasn’t surprised to find FRB sitting in the car all kitted to run but looking at this view.

He is no fairweather runner, but it just looked too grim to open the car door. He set off eventually when it lessened, aiming to go up Dufton Pike and then up to the Nick, still. And I faffed in the warm car until it was time to head to the start. Most of my clubmates were milling about, but a few hadn’t arrived. Five minutes before the start I saw three of the missing: they had taken the A65 and had a long and terrible trip up. No time for faffing, they said, but no time for fuelling either. Two others never arrived, though I saw them later in the day: they had arrived at Dufton but the queues to get into the Field of Spinning Wheels was so long, and it was getting so late, they’d decided to terminate and headed off somewhere else to run instead.

Of course we never got a team photo, because we never do, but here is a sort of one with our good Fellanddale friend Louise.

By now, a few minutes before the start, the weather was lovely. Not too cold, not windy, not wet and some sunshine. I was wearing long tights again, which astonishes all my running friends who only ever see me in shorts. “The weather must be bad if Rose has legs.” But I based my choice on those wind speeds, no matter how sunny the sky. People had made all sorts of clothing choices, from full waterproofs to vest only. That of course is up to them, as long as they carry kit, though I have my views on running in a vest in those conditions.

I was in vest and long-sleeve and no jacket. We set off, and for the first few miles, I was warm. The race goes up a tarmac lane for a while, then up to some fields, then along a couple of shoulders. At one point I cursed FRB for advising me to wear tights, as I wanted to be in shorts. But I was running well and felt good, and tried to concentrate on that, not on what was covering my legs. Anyway, he was right, because almost as soon as we turned into the valley, the weather turned too. First we had to cross a beck that I knew would be deep and rushing. It was a treat to see the Kirby Stephen Mountain Rescue team there: thank you KSMRT. And especially to the man who was standing nearly to his waist in freezing water helping each runner to cross. I am always grateful for a helping hand, and these three helping hands, passing me from one hand to another, were very welcome.

Then the wind came, and it was strong, even though it was friendly and pushing us up the valley. I could have dealt with that, but then the hail and sleet came at us sideways, and I began to get cold, and to stop regretting my clothing choice. I didn’t want to stop and put my jacket on, but I remembered last week and I knew I would get colder the higher I got, and that FRB had told me we would be running against a headwind on the downhill section. So I stopped and tried to put on my jacket, and it was tricky, not because my hands were too cold, but because the wind didn’t want me to. It was a jacket fight. I lost about 15 places to the tussle but it was the right decision, because I never wanted to take it off once over the following five miles. And I was warm enough to be able to put it on without asking for help (although this was offered by a few people who passed: thank you).

The run along the valley floor is long. Nor is it as flat as it seems. The Nick seems to get further away not nearer, like Stoodley Pike, and underfoot is either boggy or rocky and nothing inbetween. But I didn’t stop and walk as I have in other years, and I got a few places back. At the base of the Nick, I ran as far as I could, then again on a flatter bit, before the boulders began. At this point I saw that people were taking a wide arc up the first part but I couldn’t see the sense in that, when all was boulders. So I just went straight up, and got more places that way. The wind was so strong that the waterfall was blowing backwards. I stopped and turned because on the Nick I always stop and turn, and it was stunning, because unless there is clag, the view is always stunning.

The boulders towards the top were slippery and icy, and I thought my old fear of exposure could have reappeared. But it didn’t, and I really enjoyed the climb, and even managed to smile, according to Mike’s camera:

At the top, I heard “well done Rose” from FRB and also Mike from my club. I tried to give FRB a hug, but I didn’t notice his cowbell around his neck, so I managed to crush my voicebox on his cowbell which I think is not an injury that even experienced A&E staff will frequently encounter. I turned, and it was like running into a brick wall. The wind was ferocious. This kind of ferocious. It wasn’t as bad as on top of West Kip, but I still had to use a high proportion of my energy just to go forward (at West Kip, it had been about staying upright, never mind running). I suddenly felt extremely drained, but I knew my clubmate Caroline was right behind me, and she is competitive and can beat me, so I kept going. Past the Mountain Rescue team at the quad bike, where we waved our contactless dibbers, and into the wind. There is a long trod across the headland, a short incline, more trod, then the downhill proper. At this point the headwind was so bad that my contacts were sore, and I found it hard to blink. Not the best eyesight for a quick rocky downhill, but I got more places, and I kept all except one, up into the farmer’s field that is a slight incline but feels mountainous, and across the field, into the lane, where you see habitation and know you are nearly done, up the short hill into the village, round the back of houses and through yards, to the village green and the welcome sight of flags and people.

Back.

I was filthy. I knew my face was mucky because I’d used my mitts on the climb up, on my hands and knees, and then wiped my face loads of times because it was the kind of wind where your nose blows itself. But I didn’t realise how mucky.

Oh well. I headed into the village hall, putting blue plastic over my shoes as requested. It was, as it always is, extremely crowded, but I got my soup, and found a tiny space next to the windowsill. “Rose,” said my clubmate Dom, “wipe your nose.” He meant wipe it free of mud, not anything else, so I washed my face. But I didn’t get changed because I felt warm. That was stupid, as once I’d gathered two cakes and a cup of tea and set off to the car, I got very very cold and didn’t warm up for a long time. Basic mountaincraft: remove your cold clothes even if you feel warm.

I really enjoyed myself, though I’ve had enough of wind storms. And the hail can do one. High Cup Nick is such a beautiful place, and although my time wasn’t the quickest, I think I lost ten minutes to conditions, so I’m content. Thank you to the people of Dufton, to all the volunteers, from the stalwarts in that field of spinning wheels doom to the beck sprite and anyone who stood out in the cold to marshal or cheer.

It is said that if you don’t like the weather in Scotland (or Yorkshire or Wales), wait ten minutes. This was that kind of race: autumn to begin with, then winter, then more winter, then autumn again. But it was great fun, because it always is, and out of our similarly matched group of four clubmates, I came first, and I was proud of myself.

The next day though was a different story.

The Carnethy 5

The Carnethy 5

“It’s iconic.”

“How?”

“It just is.”

“But it’s only six miles long.”

“Aye. It’s still iconic.”

I didn’t believe it. I’d heard of the Carnethy 5, but I still couldn’t understand why it had such a reputation when it was short and when even the elevation per mile wasn’t that intimidating. But FRB’s Dad, a runner so good he has no more room for trophies in his house, had entered and so so did we. FRB comes from East Lothian, so we could combine the race – in MidLothian — with a family visit. Otherwise there were factors definitely against me agreeing to do it. It cost £17! That’s a road race price. And it would mean a nine-hour round trip to run a six mile race, something I would normally consider ludicrous. Then there was the small matter of Storm Dennis.

But I always like to visit Scotland, and I had run once with FRB and Dad FRB on the Pentland Hills, where the Carnethy 5 is based (it is named for Carnethy running club, which is in turn named for Carnethy, one of the Pentland hills). The race commemorates a 1302 battle that involved William Wallace. From Carnethy’s website:

In February 1302, a messenger arrived at Neidpath Tower to ask Sir Simon Fraser to meet someone at Biggar. Sir Simon Fraser rode hard, for the person he was to meet was none other than Scotland’s hero — Sir William Wallace. The Wallace’s plan was for himself to be seen gathering together an army up north, while Sir Simon waited with the main army in the south. Sure enough the plan worked, for when the English heard that The Wallace was getting ready to attack from the north, they left their winter quarters in Edinburgh heading south — Sir Simon waited.

Randolf the English General was unprepared for a fight. His army was separated into three groups of 10,000 each, some miles apart. At Dryden they suddenly found themselves confronted by 8,500 Scots. Colmyn, Saintclair and Fraser, loyal friends of Wallace soon carried the day, and rushed on to Rosewell to meet the 2nd army. The weary Scots were again triumphant, but tired, and when yet another 10,000 men approached they were ready to flee. But Sir Simon was a crafty gent, he had been warned about the 3rd army, and had sent a few ot his men to carry two tree trunks up a neighbouring hill. Then Sir Simon shouted to his men… Well, part of the old ballad says it better:

“Look ower, look ower, on yonder hill,”
Quo’ Sir Simon lood and clear,
They blich’t and saw the lift gao ill,
Then saw a cross appear.
“Tis gude St. Andrew” cried ae man,
Then doon they gaed to pray,
“Gae to,” they heard the gude Sir Simon,
“Gae to,” we’ll win the day.”

The inspired Scots rushed into battle!

This would be the 50th running of the race, so I knew that if they could go ahead, they would. But fell races and hill races were being cancelled, and we checked the forecast regularly in the week before, and it never got any better. Depending on which metereologists I checked (I’m fond of the Norwegians YR.no weather forecast), the winds were going to be between 40 and 75 miles an hour, and that stayed true until the Friday, when we set off. It didn’t matter that Storm Dennis was going to wreak more havoc in England than Scotland: we were going. I was sure the race would be called off. I know it had been run the year before even though runners had been told at the start that marshals and Mountain Rescue would be lying down because they wouldn’t be able to stand, the wind was so strong. Even so, I was sure that no race organizer would allow marshals to stand out for a few hours in 70mph winds.

Carnethy said they would make a decision at 11am on the Saturday. If we didn’t hear owt, the race would go ahead. The race starts at 2pm, and part of the reason for the cost is that runners get bussed to the start from race HQ at Beeslack High School in Penicuik. We had to set off at 11am to get to the school in good time, and the only clue as to Carnethy’s decision was a retweet from someone wishing everyone doing Carnethy 5 good luck. Even so, I didn’t believe it was on until we got to Penicuik and the car park was full and there were many lean people wandering about in waterproofs and lycra tights. I had been advised to bring “EVERYTHING” and so I had: although I run in shorts even in snow – my legs rarely get cold – I had brought long tights and plenty of layers. The race organizers required everyone to carry full body cover, and a long-sleeved top. In practice, most people in the hall seemed to be wearing all their kit at once, including me.

I was more nervous than usual. I’d had a race stress dream the night before (the one where you can’t find your kit or shoes or something), and I’d convinced myself that everyone in Scotland was a fabulous hill runner, and that they were all Jasmin Paris (who runs for Carnethy) and Finlay Wild (who always wins the Ben Nevis race), and that I would be the lumbering Englishwoman – actually half Welsh but that’s irrelevant – at the back. Tim, a friend of FRB’s who he had met a few years ago at Trapain Law race, but whose wife is from up here, reassured me. The race field is no different to what you are used to, he said. All sorts. You won’t be last.

My club-mate Dom was also running the race, as he was combining it with a visit to Edinburgh. It’s not often that we remember to get team photos but here is one:

See? I’m wearing EVERYTHING.

I think I made five toilet visits, only four of which were necessary, and eventually, we made our way out to wait for a bus to be driven ten minutes to the start. The kit check was carried out in the bus queue, and consisted of, “have you got a map? Gloves? Hat? OK then.”

The bus took us to a field underneath Carnethy Hill, where a few marquees were managing to stay upright. The winds weren’t too bad down here, and my nerves were slightly soothed by the piper standing on a mound nearby, piping us up five snow-capped hills.

We’d got one of the last buses so didn’t have long to wait for the start. I managed to warm up, but still decided to keep my jacket on. I was kitted out excessively according to my usual standards: long tights, which I’ve only ever worn for Rombald’s in snow and cold, and a waterproof jacket.

There were announcements but most were carried away by the wind. I expect they were the usual: don’t do anything stupid and if you fall over find a marshal and report back to the marquees. And then we were off. FRB, who has run Carnethy before, had given me some tips: there was a long stretch of very boggy and wet ground before we began to rise up to climb Scald Law. Stay to the left, he said. It will still be boggy but better. Also, head for the tiny hi-viz dot standing by some green bushes, which is a marshal. I squinted, saw a tiny hi-viz dot, just about, and agreed to do that. There was a gunshot, or cannon, or something, and we set off. Steady away, Rose, you will need your strength for the wind. Even so I was anxious: don’t be last, don’t be last.

So silly.

I ran as best I could, though the ground was not ground but swamp, and there was a beck crossing. So even this first half mile was hard going, as your legs are working twice as hard to accommodate the water. I felt neither good nor bad, I just kept going. FRB’s Dad had decided not to run as he was injured, but he was going to try to endure the weather and take photographs, and there he was standing on a bank before we turned to start climbing. I would get used to this sight, of a line of runners climbing in front of me, because Carnethy 5 has a purity to its planning: you go up and then you come down, five times.

In Carnethy’s description: “The race is over rough open hillside, through thick heather and boggy/rocky sections of ground, with minimal paths. The race involves 2,500′ of very steep ascent and descent, some of which you will struggle to run. It’s fair to say this race will feel a lot harder than a flat road race, but it is not beyond anyone with a reasonable level of fitness. As a very rough guide, the race organiser completes this race in somewhere between his road 10k and half marathon times.”

I climbed to Scald Law, I loved the descent, I climbed again to South Black Hill, I loved the descent, East Kip, I loved the descent, and then there was West Kip.

I can’t remember which hill I was climbing, but at one point I nearly fell backwards. A kind arm stopped me and righted me, and that was the nature of this race: there was kindness and people looking out for each other. The solidarity of fighting extreme elements. FRB had a similar experience except someone grabbed his buttocks to keep him upright. My assistance was more decorous, and I was grateful for it.

West Kip though was something else. This was the fourth hill, and by now I had begun to tire of the wind, but the wind knew this and decided to re-stoke its engines. I had my hood up as it was also hailing – of course – so I kept bumping into people as I could neither hear nor see them coming. We all trudged up as best we could. Towards the top, I was on my hands and knees and standing upright seemed actually dangerous. Here is a photograph that Peter MacDonald, one of the marshals on the top of West Kip, took, though how he managed to stay standing and use a camera is an enigma.

Image by Peter MacDonald

I had my phone with me, and I turned round a couple of times to look, and there were runners behind me, a trail of colour over the brown bracken and white snow of the hills, and it was pretty but not enough for me to consider taking off my gloves, getting out my phone, unwrapping it from its weather-proof sandwich bag, taking a picture and doing it all in the reverse. Too much effort. No photos.

I was so thankful to the marshals on top of these hills. The wind was so strong, it was an assault. I usually object to people using the word “brutal” about races, as most are not, not really. But this section, this struggle to stay upright while your pack is being blown off you and while you could fall off the hill: this section was brutal. I have run Tour of Pendle in a blizzard, and it was hard. I have run in hail so biting it gave me pockmarks. But I don’t think I’ve ever had to fight the weather as much as on this race. It got to the point on West Kip where it was so extreme that I had to laugh at it. What else can you do? You can’t reverse. You have to get off the hill. You may as well glory in the extremity of it and keep running.

We turned on the summit to descend and suddenly the wind was even more dangerous, because the descent was tricky and the wind was now behind: it didn’t get us on the top so now it wanted to push us down a steep slope. I persevered, and my legs began to enjoy the descent, steep at first then levelling out. Not flat though: I knew this because I was overtaking people and I only ever do that on descents. The final part before we descended towards Loganlea reservoir was a grassy muddy bank. I slipped, and then suddenly slid at great speed, so fast I didn’t know how to stop, until a bush helped me out. It was great fun and I was laughing out loud, and quietly thankful that no rocks had punctured my backside on the way. The power of that slide! A fellow runner congratulated me on it and I agreed that yes, it was some of my finest work.

Onwards to the reservoir, then to the cut-off, which I had forgotten about. Nor had I checked my watch. The cut-off was 1 hour 15, and I think I got there in about an hour but as I didn’t even realise it was a cut-off, that didn’t matter. About 20 runners didn’t make it. (I mean, they weren’t quick enough, not that they expired.)

Up again now, for the final climb to Carnethy Hill. I was alongside a man in shorts who said he rather regretted not wearing long trousers, as his legs were blue. There, again, was FRB Dad, taking pictures and joking with folk he knew, of which there were plenty.

I got myself up the hill and then there was the joy of the final descent. Tim had warned me before about this part, that there was gorse that bit and rocks that made you stumble, and that the two together were rather testing. But much of the gorse and heather had been burned and tamed. There were a few sections of scree-sliding, and then a hell-for-leather how-do-I-stop careering, which was fun. For a while I couldn’t figure out why I could hear the powerful jet engines of an airliner, until I realised it was the wind in my hood.

Then the long slog back over the swamp and through the beck to the finish. A photographer at the beck got some excellent pictures, though not of me (I stayed upright).

Image by Paul Dobson

And there were the feather flags of the finish, and FRB standing waiting for me. I had a cup of hot liquid which may have been tea or coffee and it didn’t matter at all which, and a biscuit. Then FRB said, shall we run back instead of waiting for buses? And I must have been on such a high from the final descent that I agreed without question. A marshal gave us directions for the three miles back to the school, which ended up being mostly farm tracks and woodland, so it was pleasant.

Just as we approached Beeslack High School, the rain began and then it intensified, and we arrived back to a downpour. There were changing rooms and showers but with 500 entrants, including a healthy proportion of women, there was no room, so I had a wet-wipe shower in the middle of the sports hall, with the help of a judiciously placed towel. Then I headed to the kitchen for food, which was a lentil dal or a spicier vegetable curry, and it was delicious. In fact, the £17 was good value, as we had also been given a bottle of Carnethy 5 beer, a 50th anniversary mug and a beer mat.

I realised afterwards that I’d been sitting next to a woman who had run the whole race although she was 80 or thereabouts. I wish I’d known because I would have genuflected at her feet. In the main hall, Jasmin Paris and her husband were hanging out, and I got starstruck, by Jasmin as well as by her daughter Rowan, who became as famous as her mum after the Spine Race. I left them be though. Nobody wants to be bothered by genuflecting strangers, do they?

We didn’t stay for prizegiving, although I did want to see the female and male winner each get a broadsword. Me, I got my beer and beer mat and mug, and I was happy to have those as well as significant satisfaction at having run a race in actually brutal conditions, and doing alright. My profound gratitude to everyone who stood out in those winds to marshal: thank you.

Do I think they were right to run the race? Yes. Though it took courage to do it.

I came 404 out of 503 runners, and I’m pleased with that. I think I’ll be back.

Mine’s a half

Mine’s a half

It’s nearly summer. Never mind that I had the heating on three times last week, and one night I nearly put the gas fire on too. Never mind that I got drenched while walking to the bus station on Saturday. I know it’s nearly summer for a few reasons: the menopause, the gift that keeps on giving, has now seen fit to give me hay fever, so I arrive at my studio after a two mile cycle ride streaming and itching and cursing nature even more than stupid drivers who cut me up at least once a commute. Another reason is evening fell races. Or evening races. I love a warm fair-weather evening, to set off after a day’s work (or procrastination), to gather with friends and club-mates in some beautiful part of the world, then to run for a while at your utmost, across moorland, along trails, up hills, and to know at the end that you have put your evening to the best possible use and would rather have been doing that than anything else. Last week four days after doing the Three Peaks I did the Dick Hudson’s race, named in fine fell-running tradition for a pub. I loved it. Here’s my report.

But I also know it’s summer when we drive to Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales national park and do the Charlesworth Chase. I’ve done it three years in a row, I think, and associate it with glorious sunshine because that’s what it seems to bring on in the weather. Saturday in Leeds was cold and rainy. Sunday in the Dales was as good as Sunday in the Dales can be. The Charlesworth Chase started when Nick Charlesworth and Sarah Martin, both Wharfedale Harriers, decided to celebrate their wedding day, by running a race where Sarah set off 20 minutes ahead of the race field, and the challenge was to catch her up. Yes. A bride hunt, without hounds. They then went off to get married, on the same day. Look, the Daily Mail even wrote about it. The race is still run by Wharfedale Harriers, and last year Sam Watson and his fiancée were the bridal couple. Sarah and Nick are still involved and Sarah usually hands out the — copious — prizes. Last year I got an age category prize and wisely chose a box of licorice allsorts. This year: who knew.

It’s an out and back race and in a way a simple one: you run up to Simon’s Seat from Appletreewick, and then you run back. It’s “only” just over five miles long. But those five miles pack a lot in: grazing fields, a stunning riverside run, steep climbs through rooty woods, rocky narrow paths then rocky wider paths, then a steep scramble up to Simon’s Seat, then do it all in reverse. But there is an unusual requirement. You have to stop and drink something then run 20 metres to the finish. This is a mandatory requirement. The choice is limited: a pint of beer, half a pint of beer, or a pint of fizzy water or Coke. Last year I chose fizzy water as I don’t much like beer. This year I almost chose the same as I’ve gone teetotal again, but I remembered how hard it was to drink a pint of bubbles, and so on my race form I selected half a beer on the grounds that it would be flatter.

The race HQ is outside the extremely beautiful Craven’s Inn pub. This a sixteenth-century pub with a rare Cruck Barn:

It also has “inspirational Ladies Toilets”. Not just because they are amazingly nice toilets in any situation but particularly just before a fell race (as they are not windy smelly portaloos). But because there is a series of pictures on the wall of inspirational women, which my fellow fell-running women were trying to guess when I got there. “I think that’s Queen Mary.” (It was Queen Elizabeth I). “That’s definitely Florence Nightingale.” And we all recognised Margaret bloody Thatcher.

Inspired, toileted, warmed-up, we gathered at the start. The kit requirements had been, “no kit requirements but apply suncream.” Even so, I took a jacket and 500ml of water. FRB took full kit because he always takes full kit. We were definitely in the minority: hardly anyone had any kit.

The race briefing included the usual instructions, and also “if you see an injured runner, then stop and help them. The race doesn’t matter.” It ended with “right, off you go then.” And off we went. I’d had race tactical advice from FRB, which was “there’s a fast descent, then it’ll be quite fast along the river, then you get to a kissing gate and then take your foot off the pedal or you’ll be knackered for the climb.” I must have done it right because I wasn’t knackered for the climb, and I even took places. I never take places on a climb. Upwards, and the path got rockier and narrower, and then the leaders came back, which required even more tactics as I tried to give them room, and they did the same. It was trod-dancing.

Scrambling now, and then actual climbing up the slabs: finding footholds, hauling myself up. There is a loop: runners going up to the left to get to the trig, then descending to the right. On the right there was an injured runner, and another runner asking him if he was alright. I heard him say that he was, that he hadn’t been knocked out. I got to the trig and descended, and saw the man’s head was bleeding. He said he was going to walk back to the finish, which was 2.5 miles away. A cyclist — perhaps the marshal — was taking off his jacket to give to him, but I said no, he could have mine. I didn’t think I’d need it on the way back as I wasn’t planning on falling. I also gave the man my water. He had an hour or so’s walk ahead of him whereas I hoped I would be back in under 25 minutes, and I’d drunk enough on the way up.

He said again that he was fine to walk back and he wasn’t concussed, so I left him and set off. Of course within five minutes I’d caught my right foot on a rock and face-planted, yet again. As usual, it was both in slow motion and so quick that I knew I could do nothing about it. I bounced, as usual, and got myself upright and assessed the damage. My right knee was throbbing, and I’d abraded most of it, along with my left palm and right thumb, weirdly. There was plenty of blood, but the cuts weren’t deep. Two runners who passed both asked me if I needed help and I said no, thank you, “I’m just walking off the knock.” Walking off the knock is a technical term* (*I just made it up) which means listening to your injured part, and realising your injured part is saying, “no, I can’t take impact yet, have pity.”

The throbbing wore off pretty quickly and I could run again. I was more cautious though now: there was still half a mile of seriously technical terrain. But I survived it, and once the terrain got less testing, I could get some pace. Down through the woods, down a track which was more technical than it looked. I was trying to lift my knees and lift my feet, and it must have worked because I stayed upright. Through the woods, along the gorgeous river, through grazing fields, and then there was the pub in sight up on a short hill. I felt like I was trudging, but I was doing alright. Back up the road to the pub, and just as I got to its garden, a woman overtook me who I remembered from last year. We both got to the drinks station — a tray of drinks on a table outside — and I drank my half and by god, it was delicious, even with a fly in it. She had chosen a pint of fizzy water. So I finished more quickly (and though I’d only had a half, I think I would have drunk a pint of beer more quickly than the water too) and beat her to the line. It sounds petty but it’s in the spirit of Charlesworth Chase, where places are won and lost on the pint. If you don’t understand how or why, try to run five miles as hard as you can and drink a beer while your digestion is still running at a 7-minute-per-mile pace and the last thing it wants is carbonated anything.

My knee was a mess, but the race first aid kit had been sent up to the injured runner, so I headed to the Inspirational Ladies’ Toilets and got busy with warm water and paper towels. The injured runner came up and gave me my jacket and water bottle back. His head looked sore and he had caked blood in his hair, but he seemed fine, and was very thankful. He said he had caught his foot between two boulders on the way off the summit, and actually somersaulted.

A quick change at the car park, which is the rather lovely garden belonging to Ted Mason, a Yorkshire farmer who is an exceptionally good fell runner. Then back to the Craven Arms garden for soup and prize giving. The winner, a young lad from Ilkley, had done it in 37 minutes, a minute off the record but astonishingly quick. First woman was Monica Lindsay, who had run the Intercounties race the day before for Scotland North. Then there were other prizes, and our friend Elaine Allen from Pudsey Pacers, who was doing her second ever fell race, was delighted to get first in the vet 50 category. She’d done Dick Hudson’s last week and got very lost, and her confidence had been dented, so this was an excellent cure.

After all the conventional prizes — including a prize for the quickest downing of a pint, for male and female — Sarah announced a Calamity Prize for Martin, the injured runner from Todmorden. And then, “and a special prize for Rose George from North Leeds Fell Runners, who helped Martin out.” A 9-pack of Toffee Crisps! If that doesn’t encourage Good Samaritanism, what will?

I was really touched, by the prize and by the fact that Martin had clearly passed on what I had done, when he had no need to. Fell running is a great sport, and fell runners are always stopping and helping the injured, even if that ruins their own race prospects. At Tour of Pendle, our P&B friend Charlie Mac was one of several very fast runners who stopped to help someone who had sliced his foot open. Charlie was up for winning his category but that didn’t stop him from stopping to help.

So I wish at the Chase that there had been more people carrying at least a jacket, despite the weather, despite the fact it was only five miles. I understand why they didn’t: it’s only ever going to be two miles away from habitation, what’s the risk? But I carry kit because of exactly the situation that happened. Kit is caution.

I didn’t have my watch, and though I dedicated a couple of minutes to helping Martin and then deciding to fall over, I think I still managed a four-minute PB. Charlesworth Chase is such a great race: I highly recommend it. Friendly, beautiful, excellent toilets, and many prizes. Thank you Wharfedale Harriers and see you next year for more chocolate.

The 65th Three Peaks Race

The 65th Three Peaks Race

 “You’re the cut-off lady!”

I looked at the man who had run up next to me, on the rocky path up to Pen-y-Ghent. A stranger. A smiling bearded man who I didn’t know. I said,

“Huh?”

By now I’m used to people recognising me on races for my socks. But not for being a cut-off lady. Or even much of a lady. I don’t think he explained much more, but said something about me just meeting the cut-offs last year, then he ran off.

About half an hour later, another stranger said, as I passed,

“You’re the cut-off lady!”

This time I properly enquired.

“Huh?”

He explained. His brother (the first stranger) had seen my race report from last year. They knew I had just made the cut-offs, though I wasn’t the last through, and had decided to keep me in their sights as a pacemaker. I said, “wouldn’t you do better to keep me behind you?” I also pointed out that this year I’d done more than three weeks training and was planning on getting to the cut-offs somewhat earlier than 30 seconds after they officially ended.

I had such plans for this year’s race. Such grand plans. But they were not preposterous. I have followed, I think, about 70% of my training plan, supplied by FRB in his coaching capacity as Run Brave coaching. I have gone to weekly Run Brave coaching sessions. My form has improved, and I have had impressive PBs on various sizeable races. On Rombald’s (23 miles) and Heptonstall (15 miles and 3170 feet of climb) I had set off and immediately known that everything was going to be alright. I had felt good, and I keep feeling good. I ran every incline, unless the gradient meant walking was more sensible. I felt strong and powerful and well-trained.

I was really hoping I would wake up on Saturday 27 April and feel the same way. But of course I was worried, for several reasons. I’d flown to Los Angeles and back in five days the week before, which meant ten days of jetlag, as well as about 24 hours cooped up on a plane. FRB and I had gone out to do our last hilly run the weekend before. It was about 25 degrees and blazingly sunny, and we had both felt awful and drained. I had been having the usual menopausal issues, to such an extent that on the Wednesday before the race I drove 260 miles to Stratford-upon-Avon and back to a specialist menopause clinic in the hope of getting fixed. I was prescribed more oestrogen, and so far it seems to be working. But I also went to a Run Brave coaching session after those six hours in a car, and felt sluggish. It was a tempo session, and it should have felt doable: we were doing no more than 8.30 minute miling. But I wanted it to end after the first kilometre. On the other hand, before LA I had gone out to do a session and run 17 hill reps because I felt like it. I had got to the point of really enjoying running up hills, and I remembered being like that the year I did my training properly and did my quickest time on the Three Peaks.

Yin, yang. Yes, no. Success, failure.

Race week proceeded in the usual way: not much running, but constant checking of the Met Office app for Horton, Pen-y-Ghent and Whernside. I don’t know why I bothered checking for Whernside, or any of the peaks: no matter what the weather forecast, the demons who live deep inside the peaks throw up whatever climate they feel like on the day, and never one that you expect. Still, it looked good, because the forecast was for cool temperatures. 8 degrees: perfect. Rain but only one raindrop: fine. I chose to ignore the 30-40 mph gusts of wind. FRB who knows his winds pronounced that we would be pushed up Pen-y-Ghent but would fight the wind to Ribblehead. I followed this by asking him to name all the winds he knew, and I named the ones I had learned from writing about shipping:

Katabatic (a type not a name but beautiful). Mistral. Sirocco. Chinook. The Chocolate Main.

At this he said, “you’re making that up.” But I wasn’t, though I’d got it wrong: it’s the chocolate gale in the West Indies and off the Spanish Main.  

By Friday I was not in two minds but several. Still, we followed our usual race prep of going to Billy Bob’s diner near Skipton and eating large amounts of food and – in my case – a very large glass of Dandelion and Burdock, which the diner has at its soda fountain because it’s classy and it’s Yorkshire (it is also classy for having a teens-and-over section because as soon as we arrived we realised that Easter holidays were still ongoing and that most of North Yorkshire’s schoolchildren appeared to be at Billy Bob’s diner).

After that, a wander around Skipton because why not, then we headed to Chapel-le-Dale where we had booked a B&B. The hosts, Martin and Jan, knew of the Three Peaks Race but not that it was on the next day, though their house is half a mile up the road from the Hill Inn checkpoint. The Three Peaks race has filled my thoughts for so long and so vividly I forget that it doesn’t fill other people’s. We went to Ingleton for our usual pre-race dinner of all the chips, and parked in a lay-by for a clear view of Ingleborough, looming in front of us. My nerves were kept in check, but only just.

The next morning was a different story. I was a wreck. Still, we managed to eat a decent breakfast – pancakes for me, cooked breakfast with black pudding for FRB – and we arrived at the race field in good time. Both FRB and I have co-edited the Three Peaks programme this year, and sit on the committee, so we were entitled to a free parking place rather than being parked a ten-minute walk away amongst chickens. There it was again, all of it: the huge white marquee. The Pete Bland Sports van. The Inov-8 van. The stall of Big Bobble Hats. The long row of portaloos. This year there was a toilet improvement, with women’s toilets separated from the men’s, so there could be two queues. I’ve had some insight into race organization from my hands-off presence as programme co-editor (I didn’t go to any meetings), and the effort is huge and I have a new respect for it. Many organizers had been there camping since Wednesday, and they are all volunteers.

This year I remembered to take my ID to registration. I remembered to put my bottles in the right tubs, one for Ribblehead and one for Hill Inn, unlike last year, when both ended up at Hill Inn. I managed not to complain that the t-shirt that was meant to be teal was instead a more boring sky blue. I wandered around and chatted to folk, including my fellow Run Bravers Izzy and Louise.

This was Izzy’s first time running the race, and Louise’s second. I was sure they would both do brilliantly, having spent many Run Brave sessions running behind them wishing I could keep up. The rest of the pre-race passed as usual: toilet visits, kit check, race announcements (another improvement: this year everything was audible), more toilet visits, a warm-up. I was in a pretty bad state. My guts were a mess, and despite being considered an expert on shit and diarrhoea, to the point of being called the Poo Lady, I had no idea what to do about the fact that I was expelling nutrients at the rate of knots. The Poo Lady was the Clueless Poo Lady. My overwhelming thought was: I don’t want to do this. Really, that’s what I thought. I did not want to run 23.6 miles and had no idea how to do it. I was convinced, as I am convinced every year, that I would not make the cut-off at Hill Inn, despite all my training telling me otherwise. But I had my lucky socks on. I had my lucky nail varnish on. It would be alright, wouldn’t it?

And then it started raining, hard. Waterproof-jacket rain. Everyone gathered in the marquee and watched it. I think I thought, well, Three Peaks weather. But it passed quickly and that was the pattern of the weather set for the day: that old Scottish joke that if you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes.

Start line.

I went to my place, behind the 5 hours mark. My personal best on the Three Peaks dates to the second year I did it, in 2017, when I got round in 5 hours, 23minutes and 30 seconds. In 2016, I did 5:24.10 and in 2018 5:31.27. This year I was going to do better. Not by much, in the scheme of things. At least, it won’t seem like much to faster people. But I wanted to get round in 5:15. I wanted to get to Ribblehead in two hours, as I’d done on a recce with FRB in March. I wanted to have time to spare at the top of Whernside to know that I would definitely make the cut-off at Hill Inn of 3 hours 30, and not have the usual panic-stricken descent down Whernside. I knew anyway that it is difficult to gain any time on the descent because it is busy and rocky. This year huge new slabs had been installed on the path that when we ran past them on a recce looked like a giant had flung them to earth just to trip up humans so he could eat them more easily. There were no instructions this year to stick to the path or risk disqualification. I noted that.

Mingle, mingle, and then we’re off. I had two main points in my race strategy:

  • Run more, not necessarily faster.
  • Don’t set off like an eejit.

I knew I had got the second part wrong when I’d already got over the bridge and FRB came up behind me. Oh. I’m definitely going too fast. But I felt good so I carried on. I’d thought about not wearing my watch, as we had been doing training sessions running on feel, and I thought that would remove a lot of the stress I feel in this race. But FRB advised against it. You want to know where you are, he said. So after a while I turned the watch face to the inside of my wrist, and checked it only at the top of Pen-y-Ghent, at High Birkwith, at Bruntscar at the bottom of Whernside, and at the finish.

Louise and Izzy caught me up after a mile. I was worried by this: I’d clearly been going too fast. But I didn’t feel like I was straining myself to the point where I would blow up after Ribblehead. I don’t remember the weather being bad but pictures show different. Apparently it rained quite hard but I’ve forgotten that. Perhaps it was because of the clag that I fell over just after the hairpin bend on the path and smacked my knee on a rock (or perhaps I have a quota of at least one fall per race and had decided to get it over with). (Fall-running.) It hurt, and briefly I was worried, but I kept moving and the pain subsided. I didn’t notice that I’d opened skin on my hand and wrist, and injuries that don’t hurt don’t matter.

I got to the top of the mountain in 48 minutes. That was OK; I was aiming for 47. Then the lovely descent. I do this race again and again but when I think about it, I can’t think of any parts that I truly love. I find the climbing hard and I’m not quick enough at it; I don’t have the tempo to feel comfortable about the 6 miles to Ribblehead, Whernside is a slog, the Whernside descent is pure panic. I usually like Ingleborough because the pressure is off. This year though I meant to keep the pressure on, because I knew I could make up time by not walking the whole way to the Ingleborough climb, and by running more inclines. But I do love the Pen-y-Ghent descent. At first it’s soft and quick, then more technical but runnable, and as if you’re on a bicycle, it gives you momentum to get up the incline towards Whitber Hill.

My plan was working. I stayed at a comfortable pace but pushing it, and got to High Birkwith faster than I’ve ever done. The weather had softened once we’d got off the top, and it was pleasant: a cool temperature, no rain. But there was a strong headwind along most of the six-mile stretch to Ribblehead, which was challenging. But once again loads of Leeds friends were marshalling and supporting, so many that fellow runners thought I was famous. “No, I’m from Leeds.” At one point I was crossing a grazing field with Izzy and she said, “it’s so beautiful” and I was slightly ashamed, because I’d forgotten to notice. Most of the time I’d been looking at my feet. So I thanked her for reminding me, because it was beautiful, even with dark skies ahead and more looming weather.

Everything was going well. I had fuelled where I meant to fuel. I hadn’t drunk much, but it wasn’t hot, so I assumed that was OK. (It was not OK.) I reached Ribblehead in 2:02, the quickest I’ve ever done. The final mile down – and up – the road to Ribblehead is always testing and peg-leggy (this is a technical term), and so is the tiny grass incline up to the checkpoint, but then it was over, I grabbed my drink, didn’t dawdle and set off again. I wasn’t hungry but ate a couple of pieces of veggie sausage on the way, because I always like to gird myself with salt for Whernside, where I once had fierce cramp at the summit.

Through the railway tunnel, and down to the beck, where I knew Harry Walker was marshalling. He won the race three times in the past, in 1978, 1979 and 1981) and Dave Woodentops Woodhead had taken a delightful picture of me with him and John Calvert (who won in 1976 and 1977) one year. I said as I went through the not-nailed-shut-with-pallets open gap in the wall, “you kissed me two years ago Harry,” and he didn’t remember, but his fellow marshal did. Actually it was three years ago, and he wasn’t the one doing the kissing so all is forgiven.

I didn’t get stuck in a bog this year. I planned to run more of the slog over to Whernside than before, and I felt good enough that I was sure that was possible. Then, a twinge in my right calf.

Oh no.

Another twinge, in the left. Right twinge, left twinge. I kept going, walking and shuffling. I thought if I ignored it it would go away. When that didn’t work I started to talk to my calves. Don’t you dare. Don’t you bloody dare cramp. Not here. Not yet. Please don’t.

But they did. And it was agony.

Cramps, say the Oxford Reference people, are relieved by gentle static stretching. Cramps are not relieved by attempting to run, again and again, while howling and whimpering and chasing a cut-off. I couldn’t understand it; I’d had salt in the sausage, I’d been drinking electrolytes, I’d only ever cramped after the steep Whernside climb. Some people say you only cramp if you haven’t trained properly, but that wasn’t the case (although as Coach FRB later pointed out, I hadn’t done many longish runs that contained the same mixture of climb, fast slippery descent and then a fast tempo). What was going on? I shouted at my legs. I tried to run but I had to turn the air blue, it was so painful. I thought, that’s it. My race is over. If I can’t run, I’ll never get to Hill Inn. I also had no idea how I’d do the steep climb if my calves were cramping this badly on a gentler gradient.

Then it started hailing. And I started laughing. Cramp and now winter? Really?

At the steep climb things got better. I could climb without cramping, which made no sense, but I wasn’t going to object, so kept going up the gradient, counting backwards in French as usual, going on hands and knees when it felt comfortable. Near the top I found Ollie, who was marshalling. He said FRB had gone up only half an hour earlier, looking strong (FRB later said that it was at Whernside he realised he wouldn’t get the PB he wanted of 4.20. He got 4.25 instead. Which was excellent.) At the top there was clag and marshals, and I set off hoping I wouldn’t cramp again. I didn’t check my watch because I didn’t want the stress. Luckily the weather meant it wasn’t quite as busy with walkers as it has been in other years. I don’t mind walkers and some of them are really cheering with their encouragement, and patient considering they have had to give way for 700 or so runners before I’ve come along. It’s the small dogs and children and walking poles that are troublesome. But this year there was no tape, which meant I could go off-piste and descend on my backside for some of it. No way was I going near those huge new slabs; they looked lethal even in clement weather. I did the quickest descent of Whernside I’ve ever done, and at the ice-cream van at Bruntscar I finally checked my watch while resisting getting a 99 with strawberry sauce. I knew I’d lost a lot of time to the cramped traverse to Whernside. It showed 3.16 (time elapsed), but I’d exactly calculated the distance to the checkpoint, and knew I could do 1.1 miles in 14 minutes. My brain said, “you could even walk a bit,” but I ignored it.  

On the way up, the first “cut-off lady” man came up next to me again. I’d run with his brother for a lot of the way round, but had lost him on Whernside. He apologised if he had seemed rude earlier. No, just surprising. He said his name was Michael, and that he was about to retire and get the Bus of Shame because his legs were shattered. I said, please don’t call it the Bus of Shame, and then he told me he’d had a stroke two years earlier. So, I said, call it the “I had a stroke two years ago and I still did two peaks bus”. That might not catch on. Amazing effort Michael: well done.

In the end I got to the checkpoint at 3.26. That, for me, is good, though I’d have liked my watch to show 3.16 instead. I had interviewed Kerry Gilchrist, checkpoint leader at Hill Inn, for the programme, and we follow each other on Instagram but had never met. But there she was, and she said “well done, that’s stronger than last year.” There, also, was my friend Niamh, rushing towards me with a hug and saying “I’m so proud of you” which was lovely (as is her decision that she’s going to run it next year). There was Izzy, with her partner. And behind me by a minute or so was Louise. We’d all made it.

Now I was going to do better to Ingleborough. I wasn’t going to walk it all. I wasn’t going to get my usual adductor cramp, which I’ve also had every year, at the roadside stile that leads into the fields. I swung myself over the stile sideways, like a horse-riding gentlewoman, hoping to fool my muscles. For a minute or two it seemed to have worked and then it didn’t. This cramp was equally disabling, but it only lasted for one field. (At one point even my foot insoles cramped too.) Louise was walking ahead of me, but I began to run because I wanted to. I overtook her, and kept going, and everything was fine, all the way up to the steps. And the steps were fine too, up to the kissing gate, and then the hailstorm hit.

A proper hailstorm. Biting hail and fierce winds and I suddenly wished I wasn’t wearing a miniskirt but a million-tog duvet. It was like being pelted by arrows from a tiny army. Ow, ow, ow. I got very cold very quickly, and I realised I was getting to the danger point of being too cold to do much about it. I stopped and put on my jacket, but the wind felt like having my jacket too, and it took a minute or two. I didn’t really have a minute or two to spare, and this weather was really infuriating me. It took me another two minutes to get my mitts on. I don’t remember getting wet on the route but my other gloves were wet so it must have rained. Finally I’d got everything on, got up to the plateau and then my calves started cramping again. I watched Louise and her clubmate Tanya going off in front of me, and there was nothing I could do to catch up. It was a weird sensation. My body felt good and that I could run, but my legs were preventing me.

I walked all the way to the checkpoint then tried to run again and managed it. The weather was still awful. I wasn’t having a nice time – and I doubt the doughty marshals were either: thank you to all of you — and as I stumbled across the wet, slimy, slippery, rocky, risky plateau, I yelled “get me off this f*cking hill” at the sky, the weather, the elements. But the wind took up my words and the hail chewed them into bits and flung them back at my stinging legs.

I caught up Louise on the descent, and then my knee started throbbing, several hours after I’d bashed it on a rock three mountains ago. I couldn’t believe it. Partly it was because everything was starting to irritate me now: my big toe was sore, the soles of my feet were sore, I was furious about the cramp, and despondent, and now my knee. Louise very kindly gave me some paracetamol — I had some, but it was buried in my pack and me and my pack weren’t getting on too well — and she ran off (and got a splendid PB). And I ran on with a throbbing knee until it wore off. No doubt many scientists spend years working on the efficacy of paracetamol and working out precisely how long it takes to be effective. I can tell them: just under a mile. It felt like I was sluggish, but I wasn’t particularly, and still took places all the way back to Horton, as FRB later calculated.

The time passed, I didn’t fall over. I usually enjoy the run back to Horton, sort of. There are no more big hills, and the end is only five miles away. I recognised landmarks here and there, and I was looking forward to the rise of the land that would reveal the big white marquee far in the distance but not too far. I was fooled for a bit when I heard music and thought it was coming from the marquee, but it was a young lad in a walking group who had decided to blast out music that he probably thought was uplifting except he had chosen Queen’s “Another one bites the dust.”

There was plenty of dust still to risk biting, as well as rocks and pitfalls. But I stayed upright and finally reached that rise, then the gentle descent on gentle grass, then the final inclines. I’ve never run these all before but now I did. Nothing was cramping, the end was in sight. I refused to check my watch because I didn’t want to ruin my last few minutes by being disappointed. There suddenly were the smiling faces and cheering voices of my club-mates Hilary and Ann, who were marshalling, and I kept running, up and up through the field, keeping with a fellow in black with a leg tattoo who I’d seen frequently on the route.

He let me go ahead of him through the tunnel, and I put on a spurt and ran like I thought Coach FRB was watching (which he was).

And that was the end.

5.23.17

I got a PB of all of thirteen seconds.

Perspective: I ran through headwinds and hail and painful cramp and still made it through the cut-offs. I took places nearly all the way round. I should be proud of myself and eventually I will be. I was disappointed because I was fit enough to have done better. I’m disturbed that I got such bad cramp and don’t know why. Lots of other people did too, so perhaps it was weather and not drinking enough.

But a PB is a PB. And there was so much I loved about the race, in the end: feeling good for half of it. Seeing so many friends all the way around. Meeting people I’d run with before (a huge well done to Jacqui, who I ran with year, who smashed her time by nearly 30 minutes, and well done Heather). Beating my time last year by eight minutes, I suppose (I’m looking on the bright side). Doing all this while having spent the last few months fighting weekly bouts of depression.

Thanks here to all volunteers on race organization and on the course, for staying up for days to make sure everything went smoothly, for standing out on freezing hilltops in awful weather. Thank you also for all the wonderful support all the way round. It really matters. You know those machines that puff a little bit of air into your eyes at the opticians? Every cheer or smile is a little puff of comfort (without the blinking). Well done to my clubmates and Run Brave mates, who all did brilliantly. So did Cut-off Lady Man 2: he missed the cut-off last year but this year made it through, so his tactic obviously worked. Thanks also to FRB for being FRB and also for being Coach Run Brave, and being very good at it. He had a brilliant run, though he didn’t manage quite to match his time to his race number (420). Mine was 851 so no way was I trying to match that.

I am lucky to be able to run at all, and to live within an easy distance of such glorious hills and fells and tracks. Three Peaks race slogan is “the marathon with mountains.” It’s not a marathon, those may not be mountains, and it’s not a fell race either. But there is no race like it. It requires so many skills — pacing, climbing, descending, road-running, speed — and so much strategy, it counts as one of the toughest races I do. So I’m proud that that this nearly 50-year-old managed it. I’ll get my 5.15 next year, or better. I always say I’ll never do this race again so see you next year in Horton.

Heptonstall : the return

Heptonstall : the return

This was my third year of running Heptonstall Fell Race. The first year it rained all the way round. The second year I got lost. And here I am again on the cobblestones, listening to a kindly vicar say actually very sensible Christian things (I am an atheist but think there is a lot of sense in the Bible). He said he had tried to find quotes appropriate to what we were about to do, so he wished us perserverance, and also — though I forget the exact phrasing — to go forth and find fellowship while running. It was nice, and I was grateful for it, because I was dreading the race. My nerves were all over the place, and they weren’t calmed by me setting off for the toilets 15 minutes before the start and realising I had forgotten to put in my contact lens. I would still have been able to see, but my lens helps me pick out tree roots and rocks and I knew there would be plenty of both on the route. So I had to run quarter of a mile up the road to the field of car parking, put in my lens in a state of panic, which is the state in which it usually takes me 10 minutes and several lenses to get it right, then run down to the start and hope I didn’t need the toilet again.

What was I nervous about? I’d run the Yorkshire vets race the day before. (Yorkshire Veterans Athletics Association, not animal doctors.) I don’t normally do double-header weekends, but I hadn’t done many vets races last season, and they are friendly and fun. They are also oddly encouraging because when you are passed by people 20 years older than you (you know this because you wear your age category on your back), it is inspiring, not demoralising. It’s my last year in the F45 category, and it’s going to get no easier in F50 because there’s some fiercely good over-50s. Also inspiring.

The race was only five miles long, and it was around Middleton Park, which is a nice wooded area of Leeds. But I found it very tough. I ran most of the hills, but still, I had heavy legs, and I was slower than I’d expected. I can explain some of that. As part of HRT, I have to take progesterone for 10 days a month. This is the progesterone time, and it always makes me depressed, dopey, bloated and ravenous. Taking progesterone for 10 days is like being prescribed PMT for ten days. Fun. For the first time I’d noticed that it also weakened my bladder. I’ve been good at doing pelvic floor exercises, and for the last few weeks have actually managed to run without the usual stress incontinence (which I wrote about here for the Guardian, and will be writing about again soon). Unless you have poor bladder control, you won’t know the relief of being able to run without worrying about smelling or showing that you’ve peed yourself. I had got used to it being better, and it had felt great. So last week when suddenly I seemed to have no control again, I couldn’t understand it, until I googled progesterone. It is a muscle relaxant that also relaxes pelvic floor muscles that hold the bladder in check no matter how much stronger those pelvic floor muscles have become with your assiduous daily exercising of them. Great.

So I wasn’t looking forward to that. I was worried I’d feel like as sluggish as I had at the vets. And I had usual pre-race nerves too. In short, I was really good company. At registration, the women handing out the numbers complimented me on my handwriting (I was probably the only person who’d filled out the FRA form with a calligraphy pen) then asked if I minded having number 13. I said no, because how could things go worse than last year?

There were lots of people I knew also doing the race, and we gathered together at the start. Amongst them were Louise and Izzy, who like me have been getting run coaching for the last eight weeks from FRB, who is now fully qualified as a coach and has set up as Run Brave coaching (website to come, Facebook page here). We have all noticed major improvements in form and understanding, and we have all been getting really good race times. I never finished the post I wrote about Rombald Stride in February. I ran it with Louise, and felt great, and ran all the runnable bits, which doesn’t normally happen, and got a 20 minute PB over a 23 mile race.

But that seemed a long way off as we waited on the cobblestones for the vicar to blow his horn (that is not code). The race organiser gave his announcements and said that the route was more flagged than last year, which was good news for me. And then we were off. And as soon as I started running, I realised:

This was going to be OK. I felt good. I felt strong.

And I felt strong nearly all the way round, for 14.8 miles of tracks and trods and bogs and fields and hills and becks and paths, and 2,905 feet of climb. We had done a recce of the route a few weeks earlier, but although I could remember parts, I couldn’t remember which order they came in, and there were long stretches I’d forgotten, and only remembered when I got to them. But I knew that after the climb up the cobblestones, there was a short sharp descent into the woods, then, immediately, a steep climb back up to the top of the valley that we had just descended. And that is Heptonstall all over, and I love it. I knew I was going to be OK when I found myself running up the fields. I deliberately use “found myself” because it seemed like an impulse that was not a decision. It happened again and again: my brain said, you’re tired, but then my legs started to run. A strange but wonderful feeling that I remembered from Rombald Stride. Here is a good illustration of how I felt on Rombald’s:

Heptonstall has cut-offs, a phrase I usually dread, but they are more generous than the Three Peaks ones, so I put them out of my head and just resolved to do my best. FRB, trying to calm me down before the race, when I had made a comment yet again about getting lost, advised me to keep my map handy and look at it whenever I was walking uphill, and locate myself on it by remembering the checkpoints. Of course I forgot to take my map out of my pack. And for the first three checkpoints, there were plenty of people around, and throughout the race, an extremely generous amount of flags. I knew though that things would get stretched out at CP3. Before that, there was what felt like a very very long nav section over open moorland. It was flat/undulating, but the bogs sapped the legs, and we were only a couple of miles in. It felt like it would never stop.

But it did because it always does. We passed a standing stone, where a cheery fellow was dispensing “well done”s to everyone (a fact I appreciate when some supporters only cheer for their own club mates), then to the trig, round the trig and off to a delightful descent. At this point during the recce I had fallen over, and so I decided to do the same thing. I was trying to overtake a man in front, but just as I approached him, my brain said, “he’s wearing a green t-shirt, I wonder if he’s a Chapel Allerton runner” when it should have been saying, “there’s a cunningly hidden tussock there, watch your step.” But I didn’t and I went flying, nearly taking out the man in green. It was a soft landing though — my brain had planned that bit right — so apart from some scraped skin and muck on my elbow, I was fine. Bounce, and back up. I’d worked on my bouncing skills on Rombald’s, where I fell three times, once on ice, twice over my own feet. On the third fall, Louise said with admiration, “you actually did a commando roll.”

I can’t remember the next stretch, the time passed, the moor rose up to meet me, and then we were descending to the beck, and up a steep road to a steep hill. I knew the road because it’s part of the Widdop fell race, so I steeled myself to run up it. I turned the corner and there, like a vision, was a mass of Calder Valley Search and Rescue Team, red-dressed angels perched on a wall. They were fantastic. They are fantastic anyway because of what they do, but here they were cheering everyone and being a big puff of sheer goodwill, and I thought they were great.

Up a very steep bank, onwards, and then I can’t remember the next stretch until the reservoir, and I remembered to cut down through the grass, because I’d gone wrong there the first year, and then there was a long long track up to High Rakes, and I ran and kept running, and still felt good. I had the usual picnic with me, and I made sure to fuel. But actually I didn’t have much over three hours: a mouthful of raisins, a gel, a small piece of Kendal mint-cake and a jelly-baby. Ahead of me was Aileen, a really impressive 60+ runner from Stainland Lions. She is super steady, so I followed her. FRB had asked me what my tactics were, and I had come up with “not get lost” but look, here I was being tactical. As in, hang on to Aileen.

Later, we got to the dell where I had got horribly lost the year before. There was no chance of that this year, because I had learned during the recce where the route went, and even if I failed to turn on the right bridge, as I’d done last year, I knew how to find the route and most importantly where it was. We’d only been about 100 metres away from it the year before. There was also no chance because the marshals were on the crucial bridge this year. Some of the marshals were scouts — thank you scouts — and one of them was sitting on a rock with a clipboard, asking quite quietly for numbers, and when I first saw him I thought he was a woodland sprite. Over the stream and up the steep bank, along the track and keeping an eye for the flag on the left that signalled another steep climb.

I will mention my shoes, because I ran on plenty of hard surfaces during this race and they should have been hurting but weren’t. Two weeks ago I’d fallen for the hype around Inov-8’s £140 Graphene Mudclaws. Graphene for the extraordinary lugs, a Kevlar upper. My friend Chris had got a pair and worn them on the recce and kept saying with wonder, “they’re like slippers”. It’s difficult to imagine a pair of shoes built for serious mud and bog and rocks could feel like slippers. Another friend had got a pair and said she was thinking of wearing them for the Three Peaks because the cleats were so big, they were actually really comfortable on hard surface (of which there is plenty on the Three Peaks route, a race you could probably do in road shoes). I’d only worn mine for the first time the day before on the Vets’ race, and the toe box was narrower than I was used to, and I worried my wide feet would start to suffer. But I decided to wear them, and they were brilliant. I got a sore little toe, but otherwise: superb grip, and comfortable even on hard tracks. Not quite slippers, but not far off.

(I’m never going to wear those gaiters though.)

Also I managed to keep them on my feet. Heptonstall includes an infamous bog, where fell runners have disappeared and not been found for centuries. Not really, but it is deep and it is wide and it is boggy. The official advice had been to sweep round it from the left, but I followed the people in front as they didn’t appear to be sinking and went straight through and it was barely a bog at all. By that I mean, I got wet to my calves but no higher, and I kept my shoes to myself.

The shoes were a conversation starter too because as I went over a stile somewhere or other someone behind said, “are those the Graphene Mudclaws?” and we struck up a conversation and stayed talking more or less for the rest of the route, finishing together. Nice to meet you Nick.

I had a couple of weak moments where I looked at how many miles had gone by and how many miles there were to go. At one point Nick tried the “there’s only a park run to go” and I responded as I usually do to this, with, “but I don’t want to do a park run.” I passed a family of walkers, with youngsters, and asked the sister and then the brother whether they were going to be fell runners. The sister said nothing and ran up to her brother for sanctuary. The brother said, “no.”

Right.

Another example of my conversational skills: I am very grateful to marshals who stand out in all weathers, and I too have marshalled in all weathers. I try to convey my compassion by saying, “I hope you’re warm enough.” For the first time, when I reached this man on top of his knoll, the conversation went like this:

Me: I hope you’re warm enough.

Him: No, I’m not.

Me: Oh.

*Runner pauses, desperately thinks what to say to make things better*

Me: There’s not a lot I can do about that. Sorry.

*Runner runs off, perfectly warm.*


The weather: the forecast had been for 10 degrees, not too much wind. But this was the proper tops. At registration, the air was biting, and FRB, as hardy as they come, was questioning his choice of bringing only a vest. I ran in a vest and long-sleeves and I was fine. Afterwards he said he was fine too, but he has more body hair than I do.

Something odd happened in the last few miles: I got better. I overtook people, including Aileen (this rarely happens). And I still felt good, and my legs still moved by themselves.

The final mile is particular. You run along a beck, along a conduit, and then reach the Stairs of Hell. I hadn’t had to climb these last year because I’d got lost way before then. And in 2017 it was pouring so hard all the way round, the stairs were a relief from the weather, no matter how steep they were. (They’re actually steps not stairs but by the time you are halfway up you won’t be thinking about vocabulary except the swearing kind.) They are definitely steep, but they passed soon enough. And I knew that what was to come would feel harder even though it wasn’t, because there were two fields to get up on exhausted legs, before the finish field. Heavy legs and grass: it’s funny how many race organisers end their races with that sapping combination. But the inexplicable strength continued, and I ran where before I would have walked, and then there we were at the finish field, and I’d had such a nice time that I didn’t even mind seeing all the dozens and dozens of people quicker than me who were already strolling back to their cars. But I put on as best a downhill sprint as I could, and encouraged Nick to do the same. Later, some friends said, “we were urging you to beat that man you were running behind”. But I didn’t need to: because he’d been very good company, and because he had arrived too late to register so he was running as a ghost and it didn’t matter whether I beat him or not.

I got to the finish, my lucky 13 was cut off me, there was FRB looking fresh though chilly (he’d finished with a superb 15-minute PB in 2 hours 35 minutes so he’d been there long enough to be on his third flapjack). I didn’t know what time I’d done until later, but when I did I nearly fell over although I was sitting down. 3 hours and ten minutes. That is, 24 minutes quicker than I’d done in 2017.

Twenty-four minutes!

My fellow Run Braver Louise had got a PB of 25 minutes, and Izzy had had a storming run on her first attempt. The moral is: structured run coaching is very good for you, and Run Brave is brilliant.

I don’t think I ran faster. I think I ran more. Everything that was runnable, I ran. I ran more of the inclines where before I would have walked. I remembered to think about my form and technique and when I did remember, to make adjustments to make things easier: to remember to move my arms when I’m tired, to lift my knees when my legs are knackered, to hold myself high on hills and use shorter strides.

It worked. I had a wonderful time. It is a fabulous race route with beautiful scenery, and afterwards they give you flapjack and more food. I’m very proud of myself (even if I did pee my pants again) and conclude that I should now only run races that are blessed by vicars. See, coach, I do have tactics, of sorts.

Helvellyn and The Dodds

There are many Dodds. Watson’s, Great, Little, Stybarrow. I know their names because I learned them, and I learned them because getting them in the right order seemed necessary, when my nerves were skyrocketing in the days before the race. I had entered us — me and FRB — just after the Three Peaks, in a fit of ambition. Of course I then got a cold, something that apparently happens after you do something like running for 5 and a half hours up and down three peaks without giving your body fair warning. So once again (this is getting old) my training was substandard. I also had to fly to Denver and back in a three-day period. Dante’s Inferno is remarkably inventive: I won’t forget the people with their heads on backwards. But he didn’t include the particular frustration of being on the 31st floor of a hotel room in Denver with a beautiful view of the Rockies, and having no time or means to go to them. Instead, I managed an urban run along Denver’s inner-city rivers and creeks, which was fine but not much more scenic than the Leeds-Liverpool canal, though with friendlier homeless people. I wanted a flat run as Denver is known as the Mile-High City because it is exactly a mile above sea-level. Altitude training was enough without adding hills. I felt OK until three miles in when suddenly everything felt harder. Anyway, all good training, but not quite enough to ascend a very large hill and then get myself all the way to Helvellyn and back.

“It’s undulating,” said FRB. You just need to get up Clough Head, and then it’s….he didn’t say a doddle, but he didn’t make it sound hellish.

We decided to camp at Threlkeld, and found a site with a perfect view: Clough Head in front, Blencathra behind. We got there in good time and decided to have a leg-stretch and walk up to Clough Head. That does not mean we walked up Clough Head, that would be a leg-deadener. FRB was wondering about lines. These are what fell runners wonder about a lot: which line is best down or up a hill. The Clough Head fell race had taken place not long before, and there was a clear path, whether made by fell runners or there all along, going up the steepest part of the climb. We also had Alfred Wainwright’s book with us, and I had studied it carefully. It was my first proper reading of a Wainwright and I concluded that his writing is very good, and very grumpy, and quite funny. I can’t remember whether it was Wainwright or the wisdom of the internet (that is, fell runners who have run the race before), but there seemed to be an alternative way up and down. We walked up and had a look, and it didn’t seem to give much advantage. A runner passed us, quite slowly — it was getting steep — and with very little clue of the route. He said he was planning to run up Clough Head and along, the day before the race, and we nodded and wished him well, and thought, “lunatic.”

I don’t sleep well in tents and I didn’t hold much hope for this night, but I slept OK. We were up and away early the next morning, walking to the race HQ at Threlkeld under a mile away. The weather was fine, but the forecast promised wind on the tops. That was true, but not all the truth.

I did my usual race prep of milling and faffing. I remember the sun being so hot that we found one of the few bits of shade and sat under it, next to a man who had come from London only to run this race.

I was nervous. This was to be my first proper Lakeland race, and I didn’t think I was up to much. It’s boring to be perpetually worried about coming last, but I knew this wasn’t a huge field, which lessens my chances considerably. It was mostly local Lakes clubs, also known as the fast&thin&quick lot, though bolstered by an unexpected half-dozen of Hyde Park Harriers of Leeds, and the man from London. I also knew there were cut-offs, a fact always guaranteed to churn my brain.

I had tried to learn the peaks in order, but I’m not one of those northerners who came regularly to the Lake District in my youth, and I can’t rattle off Wainwrights and put them in the right position, unlike plenty of my Yorkshire friends. The Lakes are a mystery to me. So, repeat after me: Clough Head, Calfhow Pike, Great Dodd, round Watson’s Dodd, Stybarrow Dodd, Raise, Whiteside, Helvellyn. Then back again. The final cut-off was on Raise, so I had to keep my mind on the route and count checkpoints and cut-offs.

We were told there was no water on the course, and it was hot, so I carried my usual amount: enough for a Lilliputian army. There were still people who were carrying no water though for 15 miles and 4500 feet of climb on a hot day. : kit checks were done, but water wasn’t a requirement.

We set off along a tarmac road, then up Clough Head. By “up,” I mean we climbed 1800 feet in about a mile and a half. I immediately abandoned all thought of good lines, and just followed the person in front, and got very very used to the sight of the back aspect of the person in front. I can’t remember how I got up, probably resorting to French as usual, but I do recall that at the top the forecast of “a bit breezy” became clear. And it became clear that “a bit breezy” meant “you will struggle to stay upright sometimes and the wind will never ever let up for the next 12 miles until you get back to Clough Head.”

And so it came to pass. I ran, I lost my map twice and recovered it twice from the pincers of the 40 mph winds. I gawped in astonishment at the eye-watering beauty of the views. I tried to do as instructed, and to put my thumb on the checkpoint on the map once I had got through the checkpoint, so I knew what was coming. This was slightly ruined by the wind nicking my map. At Stybarrow Dodd, I saw Graham, a friend from P&B, on his way back. Like many others, he had not gone up and over, but cut across a narrow grass trod along the contour. He recommended I go that way, so I did, without remembering that I am very bad with heights that are exposed: the slope was grass, but sheer, and a little nerve-wracking. This though was fine: as long as I can see what’s below and it’s not a sheer drop, I’m OK. The wind though was punishing and a little scary in its intensity. Also the noise of it: it’s only when it stopped that I noticed it had been shouting in my head all the way round.

At one point, of course, I lost track of where I was. I also thought I may be last. I’d seen some of the Hyde Park Harriers behind me, three or four, but they disappeared. I felt quite alone, and I was worried I’d be timed out. For a while I was convinced I’d gone the wrong way and missed a checkpoint and a whole bloody peak. But eventually I got to Raise, and I was in time, and then it was down to Sticks Pass, and soon up the rocky tricky climb to Helvellyn, where I saw FRB coming down on his way back. 

You’d think there was a let-up in the wind, when I turned round for the return. No. On and on it blew. But I kept going, encountering a few other runners, including one lad from Hyde Park who said the others had disappeared because they were going to be timed out so he had left them. I don’t remember much of the way back, except that suddenly there was the checkpoint at Clough Head, and now I knew I had to find my way to a certain point on the ridge to get the best descent down, but everyone else was just heading straight down and I was so tired I thought, sod it, how bad can it be, and followed them. It was not the most relaxing of descents. Hard on the knees, hard on tired feet. But it was downhill.

Then to the tarmac road, where somehow my legs sped up, and around a bend and over a bridge where two women were cheering (thank you) and back to the cricket club where there was even some food left. Never has an egg sandwich tasted so fine.

I came 138th out of the 147 who got through the cut-offs. It took me 4 hours and 18 minutes, nearly two hours more than the first woman finisher, Hannah Horsburgh of Keswick. Bravo, Hannah.

I wasn’t last. Despite the best efforts of the wind, I loved it. See you again, Lakes.

A run in a city after dark

A run in a city after dark

I run frequently in the dark, unafraid, over moorland and hills, but always in company and with a torch on my head. I run more rarely in my city, on urban streets, in the dark. This afternoon I lay on my sofa in a gloom that I cannot explain, and I knew that it could be softened by running, but I didn’t want to run. I didn’t want to get up. I wanted to lie under a thick blanket with a cat on my legs, and stare into space.

I got up. I walked upstairs. I put on my running kit. I put on my shoes. I took a house key off my keyring. I forgot to take my phone, or any water, or my safety wristband that lists my name and contact details, my emergency contact details and my blood group: A+. No known allergies.

I just had to get out and run. It was urgent.

But I am a woman, and it was dark, and I was going to run along the streets of my city, and all these things mean that this run would always be different for me than for a man. Don’t protest. I have run with men in dark woods with headtorches, where I would never dare run on my own — and no would any woman I know — and asked them whether they would run here alone, and they have answered with heartbreaking thoughtlessness, “yes, why not?”

I have run along a canal and a man has looked at me and his gaze has lingered for just a little too long, and I have thought about him and his whereabouts and whether he is following, and where might he be waiting, for the next several miles of my run and he has ruined them. 

I am not anxious or scared as a rule. I’ve been to dangerous places, in war and post-war, and I have been very afraid in risky situations. I don’t think I am oversensitive about safety. But I think all women runners must think like this. A couple of days ago on Twitter a woman posted a question: what would you do, women, if men were absent for 24 hours? And so many answered that they would run, or walk, or be free, without thought of risk of what-might-happens. that it was heartbreaking (and of course got the “not-all-men” brigade out in force). (It’s not all men.) (Men are perpetrators of 80% of violent crime.) (Many victims of violent crime are men.) (Many victims of violent crime are women.)

So here is an example of how my brain worked, on an ordinary four-mile run around ordinary streets in an ordinary city, on a winter’s day after dark.

Which way shall I go

Which way is the safest

Shall I go up the main road which has more cars or the residential street with a wider pavement but fewer cars

Should I go at 4 or at 5 when more people are coming home from work and there will be more people around

Which street has the most lights

Which street has the most lights and houses that are not set too far back from the street because if something happens I don’t want them to be too far back that I can’t get help

I’ll go up the main road because though I dislike running near traffic, but it will have the most people around so it will be safe and then I’ll  turn along another main road but then I have to run past restaurants and bars though what if someone bothers me there, a drunk, or a pack of men or anyone

Never mind I’ll risk it, it’s early, maybe people aren’t drunk yet. I’ll go on the main road with the most lights even though the pavements there are bad and I could trip

I want to run down the road past the park but I know it has no street lights. I think it’s too risky

But maybe I can anyway because it’s rush hour and there are lots of cars and it’s not too long, about half a mile

But that’s half a mile in darkness

But there are grass playing fields on both sides so someone could easily drag me off the pavement

But they wouldn’t do that in sight of passing traffic

Would they?

Would they?

Which side of the road should I run on: if I run on the left, traffic can see my reflective jacket better but someone could stop and grab me or heckle

If I run on the right it would be hard for a car to stop wouldn’t it because it would hold up traffic

I’m not going to go down by the park

But if I go down the residential road on the far side of the park instead, how light is it and how many people will there be walking about and how posh are the houses and how far back from the road because remember when that man followed me when I was running on the posh street and no-one would have heard

I’ll go down to just above the park and turn right and run along roads that are quiet but well-lit and hope they’re OK

But hang on that man has just come out of that ginnel and it’s not very long and it has two street lights so I’ll take that instead even though it’s a ginnel and all my instincts tell me to avoid ginnels

But sod that why should I be scared of running around my own city

I take the ginnel and turn left onto a dark residential street. There are lights but not many and they are not bright

On the other side of the road are two people walking and a person walking a dog. I think, do they feel safe because there are two of them

And

Why won’t my brain shut up about risk all the bloody time

I run past a young man and notice him because I notice everyone because I have to. What might he do, what will he do, should I be worried, should I cross the road, no it’s fine, he’s walking on

I run on. I run fast. I pass the grammar school, set back off the road. I have run these streets many times, but always in daylight or company. Tonight I am angry: why should I be scared of my own city. Why can’t I run on the streets without worrying about everything, everyone, every possibility

I run fast enough for my purposes, not so fast that I might trip. I turn into another residential street, split by a grass bank of vegetation in the middle. This street is so familiar, I feel safer here, for no reason at all.

I know there is a good mile of flattish street, and then I could turn down my steep training hill

But the path that goes down my steep training hill is narrow and so is the road, and it goes under a bridge where cars must slow down, a perfect pinch point. I shouldn’t go down this road, because even after the bridge the road hugs dark woods where anyone could be, dark woods that I love but which I don’t run in on my own at night. So stupid: who can tell a woman from a man when she is in dark clothing with a blinding headtorch?

I have no headtorch. I am pinned to the roads

I should not go down this road. It’s not safe.

Fuck that.
I turn left down the narrow path, under the bridge, fast, fast, fast down the hill, next to the woods, the fast of the unsafe combined with the fuck-it-ness I also feel. Cars coming up the hill, rushing home. They could stop. They don’t stop.

I get to the bottom and have two routes choices: a good flat run along the valley road, but the path is dark and badly lit and again hugs the woods.

I choose the hill instead: a residential one with lights.

No people on the streets. No-one is walking.

I run up the hill, turn right up another hill, turn right into my street. I stop at the wall outside the park and stretch.

I am home safe.

I was never scared.

I was never not thinking about my safety. Because that is what I have been taught to do, by life.


Trail de Caussou

Trail de Caussou

Caussou. A place I had not heard of.  A place many people may not have heard of as it is a small village on a mountainside in the Haute-Ariège. I have a house in south-western France, near the Pyrenées, and as we were coming on holiday for a few weeks, obviously I looked for a race to run while I was here. Trail de Caussou sounded perfect: 11km, about an hour’s drive from my house over the Col de Chioula, and organized by the village hunt committee. (This last part, as I am vegetarian and loathe hunting, was problematic. But not problematic enough for me not to enter.) It was a simple concept: you had to get to the top of Pic Fourcat and down again. FRB was not certain he would run, although he broke his injury and illness period by running Turnslack with me the other week. “Don’t be afraid if I fall behind you,” he said, and I nodded, thinking, that’s never going to happen.

I told him about Caussou and he looked it up. Rose, he said, do you realise the climb is almost as high as Ben Nevis?

No.

I looked at the race page a bit more. Caussou is at 3,000 feet altitude more or less, and climbing Pic Fourcat added another 3,500 feet. In my head, I retained this fact: we would climb for four miles and descend for four miles.

We drove 1,000 miles to France, arrived mid-week, and early on the Saturday morning set off to Caussou. I knew the way: up to the Pays de Sault, up further though the alpine villages of Camurac and Prades, up to the Col de Chioula pass, which has views as beautiful as the panoramic café staff are grumpy, and then turn right for a direct road to Caussou. We left plenty of time, because although I speak decent French, the website details were slightly unclear. Does “inscription à 8h” mean registration opens at 8 or starts operating at 8? I suppose I could have asked a French speaker, as despite the best efforts of English expats, the village where I have a house is still full of them. But I didn’t. Instead we allowed generous time. I checked Google maps and there were no traffic problems indicated. We got to the turn-off and there suddenly was a problem, unindicated by Google maps. The road was closed. In fact, there had been a landslide and there was no road.

Oh.

FRB managed not to splutter and so did I. I appealed to his Scottishness. “If we miss the start we can always run for free.” Caussou was already outside the FRB scale of race entries, as it cost more than £1 per mile. We went over the pass, down into Ax-les-Thermes and along the valley, then up again, adding about 40 minutes to our route. As we came off the main road, we encountered another car that had stopped to ask for directions. The man in in the car was waving his hand in what I consider to be a Gallic fashion to indicate frustration. (There was no signpost indicating Caussou, only a tourist sign for la route des crètes: the road of the mountain crests.) We saw his helper’s mouth make the form of “Caussou”, turned to each other and said “he’s doing the race” and followed him. This worked much better than trusting Google, because we got there. On a road that still existed.

Caussou is a tiny village high up and lovely. There were runners wandering up and down with numbers on, but also some without numbers who didn’t look panicked. From this I concluded that “à 8h” meant “from 8” and so it was. We produced our medical certificates, required in France if you don’t belong to the French athletics association, paid 14 euros, and received with grateful surprise a little headtorch, a very useful gift when you have a large 300-year old village house with a three-story barn attached and a leaking roof that tends to leak in the middle of the night. Back to the car and dis donc, suddenly we see a posse of Pudsey & Bramley runners. This was less surprising than it may have seemed; Gary and Debbie who run Pyrenées Haven are P&B, and we knew our friends Graham and Rachel had been planning a holiday there. There was also Niall, another P&B, who was accidentally still there due to a broken-down car and crap service from his insurer. If you think your car may break down in heat and mountainous terrain, or even anywhere, don’t use Axa. There was also another Brit, a Borrowdale fell runner. Out of a race field of about 70, six Brits was an impressive amount. I took appropriate pictures, one of which was photo-bombed by one of the organizers, a woman who managed to look like Maradona from behind (better than looking like him from in front).

The other runners looked like trail or mountain runners. Why do I say that? Because of all the poles. And all the compression socks. A Nordic walk along the same route set off at the same time as us, and for a time I thought all the people with poles were doing the walk, but they were runners too. I’ve never used poles, and I’m not persuaded, having seen runners clack-clacking up through forests no quicker than me, that they’re much cop. Then again, Ben Nevis.

We milled at the start, a fancy inflatable overhead thing from Decathlon (which sponsored the race) enhanced with a nice rustic touch.

Someone started talking via a microphone but I couldn’t hear it. Typical fell race start so far. Then a pistol shot. Not a typical fell race start. I jumped half a foot from shock then set off. The up was immediate and it was hard. I only managed to run for a few minutes, and then it was a walk for the next 3,500 feet of climb. This means I got to know the runners around me. Walkers, really. We were all walkers. There was a young lass in front, and an old fella behind. We climbed up through some woods, a bit of open grassland then back into the trees. I don’t know how long it went on for but when I saw some people standing up ahead with food and drink, they looked like forest angels. I love French races for the refreshments: there were sweets, but mostly it was dried and fresh fruit. Dried apricots and cut oranges, but also prunes. Prunes? Fructose can cause digestive issues, but prunes are usually even worse. I took some apricots and a cup of orange juice, thinking, fructose, then thinking, SUGAR. I heard the older fellow say, “I’m going to be last again,” and I said, “you might not, it might be me, and anyway it doesn’t matter.” Because it didn’t. What mattered was getting to the end of this climb. Up again, through the trees.

The route was excellently signposted with strips of Decathlon tape hanging from branches. Even I couldn’t get lost. Even so, FRB said, check your map after checkpoints. I did. Once.

I checked my watch now and again. God, we’ve only gone a mile. God, we’ve only gone a mile and a bit. Finally we left the treeline and set off up an open expanse. This was felly terrain and familiar: tussocks galore. And the odd lonely tree.


I remembered to turn around to look and nearly fell over from the beauty and glory of it. Mountains, mountains, mountains.

The hills are alive with the sound of huffing and puffing

Far up ahead I could see what looked like a ridge, but I told myself it was a false summit, it couldn’t be the real summit because this race was four miles up and four miles down, and we hadn’t yet done two. I looked behind me and saw someone I didn’t recognise. He was a young man, and he was climbing fast. When I next looked, he was even closer. It was like that scene in Princess Bride where Westley is climbing the cliffs of desolation. Soon enough he had reached me, and went past saying, “I missed the start!” He seemed to be making up for it.

I kept going, having a brief chat with the young lass near me, though I was slightly hampered by the following conversation in my head:

Should I vousvoie or tutoie? (Vous = polite version of ‘you’; Tu = more informal.) Italians much more readily use “tu,” the French more usually use “vous.”. Surely out here on a mountain even the more formal French wouldn’t use vous. I asked her if she was OK, using tu. She responded with vous.

Oh.

She said, using vous, that she had a made a mistake and should have carried water. As usual I had lots and gave her some. Using tu.

I looked up and saw folk on a summit. This was very puzzling. Perhaps there was another one to climb as well as Pic Fourcat? I got to them, not even managing to run for the photographer, and found the answer to FRB’s earlier question of “how will they get refreshments up without a road” in the shape of a huge quad bike, which had been turned into a serving table. Apricots, prunes, sweets, and flies everywhere.

I thanked everyone and set off as fast as my legs could carry me.

My legs didn’t like that. Think of a just-born calf, its upper body disconnected from the strange long things protruding from it. Gangly doesn’t cover it. My legs were moving but it was momentum not intent. It was not easy terrain to move fast over: grassy, tussocky, treacherous. Still, I ran as fast as I could. As fast as my legs could carry me. Then: halt. There was another incline ahead. Aha: there is another summit. But it was only a short incline. A woman with poles who I’d overtaken descending now overtook me on the climb. That’s fine, except I said hello to her and got short shrift so, as is the way of things in the runner’s brain, that meant: you’re not beating me. At the top of the incline I think there was a man with a clipboard, though perhaps he was a mirage, and then: DOWN. Five miles down. Because the race was in fact not four miles up and four miles down, nor even eight miles long. It was 3,500 feet of climb in two miles, then five miles back. I did my fell running thing and pelted. No-one else did: they seemed to have a steady pace that didn’t change much whether they were going up or down. There was no sprinting.

A short toilet stop in a prickly bush, a brief consideration of ticks, then I was off again. Again, it wasn’t easy. This was not a fair and spongy mountainside of easy running grass. It was rocks and narrow paths or tussocks. I have forgotten much of it, but I remember the next checkpoint. A young boy handed me a drink of water and though I still had some, I accepted it because mine was warm, his was cold, and he had plenty. I made conversation, asking the lad if he spoke any English. He lowered his head with shyness. No English, said the man on the checkpoint. Here we only speak French and Ariégois. He meant it jovially and I took it jovially. He also said, “be careful now; the path gets rocky.” I heard this, and thought two things: that “cailloteux” is a beautiful word, and, what, MORE rocky? And it was. It was properly tricky. I’d read an online piece about Kilian Jornet, who broke the Bob Graham Round record recently. It considered why he was so good, and concluded that it was because he was so fit, and so good at descending, that his descending was actually recovery. It taxed him so little, it gave him more strength for climbing.

I am not Kilian Jornet. This descent taxed me a lot. I rarely want descents to be over, but this one was exhausting. Boulders, pebbles, stones, rocks, dark woods: it had all of that. And my tired legs had to deal with it. I kept going, I managed not to fall over, and then got briefly lost in a dell, a fact I am not ashamed of as when I told FRB I’d got lost in a dell, he knew exactly where I meant. Oh, THAT dell.

I still thought the race was eight miles long, so when I emerged onto a grassy track and began to see barns and buildings, I was confused. Maybe they would stick another mile on it for fun? There was plenty of height to descend, as Caussou was up a mountainside. But then I saw the church spire, and I knew I was reaching the end, and that the race was just over seven miles, and that that was a blessing. Down into the village, past a few cheering folk. Bravo! Bravo! Past the lavoir, the stone washing basins where people used to do laundry, where I managed to note that runners were washing their feet and legs, round the corner and:

Fin.

Part 24 of FRB’s photo series in which he manages to make me look like a hobbit. A sweaty hobbit.

The P&Bs were all long back, of course. I found a toilet first, then encountered the older man I’d been alongside early on, who was sitting down looking exhausted. He saw me and said, “I couldn’t catch you! I manged to stay with you up to the summit but then you set off downhill like a rocket!”. I thanked him and said it was due to enjoying descending and having little fear of it. Oui, he agreed. And you also have muscular legs. At least I think he meant muscular. He pointed to his lean ones. “Pas comme moi.”

FRB directed me to a water fountain gushing cool, lovely water. I drank some, poured some on my head, recovered a bit, then exchanged my number for a beer. I don’t drink beer, but this was delicious. It was still hot, so we sat in the shade before I remembered the lavoir and we headed for that. Two bored-looking firemen were standing outside it, on race ambulance duty. Someone said, there’s a giant catfish in there, and so there was. Huge, monstrous, and looking sad, unlike FRB, because beer.

What is a giant catfish doing in a village lavoir? I don’t know, but I didn’t like the thought of its teeth encountering my legs. Fish spas are disgusting even when they don’t involve catfish. I asked one of the firemen whether it was safe to bathe. He grinned. “Well, the other runners emerged alive.” Then, in English, “Trust me.” He was handsome and in uniform and wearing dark glasses, so I was minded to. But even so: it was a giant catfish.

We managed to wash while drinking beer, unscathed, then ambled back around for the prize-giving. I liked the look of this: there was an actual podium, which had been fashioned out of a tractor trailer that you climbed onto using a chair and the helpful arm of a nearby woman. The announcer’s microphone wasn’t brilliant though, but the prizes were. I’d seen them inside where the toilet was and wondered what the things that looked like hi-tech prosthetics were. Snow shoes! It was such a small field that the P&B lot were bound to get prizes, and they did: Rachel was 3rd woman, Graham got a Vet’s prize category. I didn’t expect to get anything: the results had already been pinned up and I was fifth out of five 40-50 women. But then, as I was making my way merrily through my second beer, I heard something like “ooze djoj.” None of the P&Bs paid it any attention. But I wondered, and wandered over to the announcer. Did you say Rose George? “Oui,” he said. “Ooze djoj.” I had no idea how, why or what I had won, but I remembered to put my beer to one side, climbed up onto a podium for the first time that I can remember, and was handed a shopping bag with a post-it on it: 3eme Master V1 F. Me! On a podium!

I obviously managed to hide the beer

I got off the podium in one piece (I remind you: I don’t drink beer) and opened my shopping bag to see what prizes I had. This is what was inside:

  • a bottle of foot deodorant
  • a bottle of beautifying milk
  • a hairbrush
  • a plastic Sellotape-like dispenser that instead dispensed a bandage
  • a packet of sweets

Every fell runner should have one of these

I loved it all. Especially the bandage, when I steam-burned my arm quite badly a few days later. The foot deodorant has come in useful too. But mostly, I loved the generosity of a small village race that thinks someone like me worthy of a prize. I worked out later that I had definitely come fifth out of five in my category, but the top two women had finished first and second overall. Impressive, and to my foot-deodorant advantage.

On the entry form, there had been an option to pay 15 euros or something to join in the village meal. I’d had small hopes, when the meal was arranged by the local hunt committee, of finding a good vegetarian option, so we had brought a picnic instead. We found a picnic table under a shady tree next to the village hall, where the meal was being held. I looked over the wall down into the garden where the food was being prepared: a giant hog roast, dripping fat into about two thousand potatoes. I went back to my bread and cheese with only a little bit of regret (I really love potatoes). After a while, a group of villagers came past, released from their race duties, and one shouted over, “aren’t you joining us?” We explained we had not paid, and were clearly picnicking but she was unfazed. “Come and sit with us anyway.” Which is why I love village races, hunt committees or not.

As for FRB and his conviction that he would be running behind me? He overtook me at the start and I didn’t see him after that. He told me he looked down from the summit and saw me in the distance and thought, “I’d better get a shift on”. He beat me by twenty minutes, but he didn’t win a hairbrush.

A cautionary tale

A cautionary tale

Or, how to turn a trail race into a fell race, without meaning to.

It’s gala season. Gala races are fun, because they are often short, there is often ice-cream afterwards and before the race starts you can watch 11-year-olds put their all into winning sack races. On Saturday it was Ingleton Gala, and Ingleton Gala Mountain Race. Fell-runners can often argue about whether a fell race is clearly a fell race. Plenty of people think the Three Peaks is not a fell race and that there is very little that is “felly” (yes, that is a word and if not it is now) about it, as most is on clear paths and there is a lot of hard surface as well as three mountains. Ingleton Gala Mountain Race was definitely a race, and it definitely involved a mountain, as the race route consisted of heading up to Ingleborough, known by me as the “one I always mean to run to but always walk to” as it’s the third of the Three Peaks and the only one beyond the Hill Inn cut-off. It is also known by many as Inglebugger, either because it is the third peak of three, or because of its severe and steep face of limestone rock. But most of the route is on a well-defined track, so it’s probably a trail race.

FRB has been ill and injured for the last month: first he was injured, and then he was ill. But he is feeling better on both counts and decided to come up for the day and support, so off we set on the usual route to Skipton, then to Ingleton. It was a civilized race start of 3pm, and we got there with time to spare to check out the gala. £2 entry to the gala and £4 for the race. The checking-out of the gala didn’t take long: there were sack races and obstacle courses, a few stalls, and some magnificent raptors who, as I wasn’t feeling full of vim and vigour, I thought of asking for a lift up the mountain. The weather was good: not too hot or muggy, and overcast, though warm. I saw a few runners with what looked like full kit back packs, but there were no signs one way or the other, so I asked at registration. Yes, they said. Full kit. I must have looked surprised: many gala races in fine weather relax kit requirements. It wasn’t that I disapproved: I usually find more to disapprove in macho runners who refuse to carry water or any kit, as if they will magically sprout feathers or fur and a water fountain if they break a limb on the tops. The man at registration said, “full kit because someone broke his leg last year and he got cold very quickly.”

I said, “Right. Yes. I approve.”

Pause.

“Not of the broken leg, obviously.”

I fetched my kit. The only thing that was sub-standard was my race map: I’d forgotten the OS map on my coffee table, so I had the Three Peaks map, which had half the race route on it. It wasn’t ideal, and I was annoyed with myself that I didn’t have the actual race route, but I didn’t think I’d need it. There were no kit checks, and we gathered in the sack-racing field and waited. Then we waited a bit more. The announcer said, sorry, he needed to find Paul the ambulance man, as he had a call-out. Behind him was a fire engine and crew who were doing a show-and-tell-and-climb-over-our-fire-engine session at the gala. Suddenly the crew all climbed into the truck and off they went too. (It was because of this head-on collision.) Finally there was a brief count-down and off we went. I had no tactics in mind other than getting up the mountain and getting down again. I felt OK: not too hot, quite sprightly. I ran more than I thought I would, keeping an eye out for FRB. He finally appeared after about two miles, though his voice appeared first, as it was shouting “ROSE YOU’VE GOT TO RUN NOW.” So I did. I passed two people in front of me and said, “I’m only running for the camera” and they laughed and FRB got this lovely shot:

Up and up we went, and the overcast became clag. I can’t ever remember seeing Ingleborough in fine weather, though FRB says we did once, on a recce. Today it looked first like this:

And then like this:

That shouldn’t have been a problem. This was an out-and-back race. The most straightforward kind: you go up on one path, and you turn round at the trig, and you come back down on the same path.

As we neared the final climb to the summit, the leaders began to come back down. They were pelting, zooming, whooshing past us. As I plodded up and wondered when the hell the summit was ever going to appear, I thought: that looks like such fun. I began to look forward to the descent. A woman next to me from Saddleworth was saying “well done” to every runner who passed her. I thought this was a) extremely generous and nice and b) a waste of breath she needed to get up the mountain. I usually say well done to the top three, who are always going too fast to say anything back; to people I know; and to the first couple of women. The Saddleworth woman and I had a chat, and she expressed some concern about how rocky the path was and that the descent looked really tricky and technical. I stupidly mentioned that someone had broken his leg the year before, and immediately wished I hadn’t. Sorry, Saddleworth woman; that was not diplomatic of me. Still, feeling guilty about that kept my mind off climbing for the next five minutes. I didn’t share her worries: I was dying to get to the top and then do some hurtling. Where I fit in the race field, I am improbably fast at descending, because I love it. A lot of folk of my pace are more cautious. So I can usually take several places, which I usually promptly lose on the next climb. All this was in my mind as I kept going up — helped by a big fellow with a beard who did a good “whoop” now and then — and finally there didn’t seem to be any more false summits, just the faint outline of a trig point, around which we went anti-clockwise then headed back to the path. I’d seen runners coming down from the summit way off to my right, and earlier, a lot of the fast runners had come down off-piste. Both these things were in my mind and in hindsight I wish they hadn’t been.

I started on the path. I overtook people who had been running around me. And then I veered off the path in search of better ground, and I veered too much. I don’t exactly know what happened for the next five minutes, but suddenly I found myself unable to see anyone or hear anyone, and there was nothing but profound clag all around me. I knew I was on Ingleborough, and that there were villages within a few miles, but suddenly it seemed such an unearthly place. So quiet and desolate. I began to panic. I realised I hadn’t been concentrating on anything but my feet, as I was so giddy to get on with the descent, and now I had no idea where I was. For a while, I heard faint voices, but I think they were on the summit. I shouted several times and no-one replied. Then I really began to panic. Luckily I had my phone, and I knew FRB was on the track a couple of miles below. Also, very luckily, I had reception. I phoned him. The phone was answered but there was silence.

Me: Hello?

FRB: Well done Graham

Me: HELLO?

FRB: Well done Chris

Me: FRB?

Me: FRB ANSWER THE PHONE?

Finally he said hello. He’d been cheering runners going past. Later he told me that I’d pocket-phoned him while I’d been running up (I’d done the same to my mother who later said, “I don’t know if it was a mistake or whether you actually wanted me to hear the sound of your footsteps”). All he could hear that time was breathing and thudding. This time I was breathing heavily from running downhill and from anxiety, and so FRB thought I had done the same thing.

Me: I’m lost.

There was a pause. I’m quite certain that in that pause FRB’s brain was trying to calculate the chances of someone getting lost on a race route that consisted of going up a path and down the same path. Then he recalculated, adding in the fact that it was me. But he was careful to sound kind.

FRB: Where are you?

Me: I don’t know.

FRB: What can you see?

Me: Sheep. And clag.

I carried on describing what I could see, babbling, until he said ROSE BE QUIET.

For some reason I didn’t think to get out my compass at this point and for some reason FRB didn’t think to tell me to get out my compass. If I had, I’d have known from the map to head south-southwest. Instead, FRB said, can you see some conifers and a farm? Yes! (Later we realised we’d been talking about different conifers and a different farm). He said, can you see the sun? Sort of.

OK, he said, head for the sun. That’s pretty much the right direction. Call me in ten minutes.

I obeyed. I ran, I walked. I still couldn’t understand why I couldn’t see a path or any humans anywhere. It was just me, wild landscape, limestone and sheep. Had I not been in a state of anxiety, it would have been a lovely trek, because it was beautiful and wild and lonely and quiet. But it was not straightforward. There were tussocks with deep channels in-between that are proper ankle-breakers. Ingleborough’s limestone plateaus have lots of holes, and I almost didn’t avoid one about ten feet deep. I stung my hands on gorse. And still there was no path. The clag had lifted, but so my perfect visibility enabled me to see that I had no idea where I was. I kept going south south-west, my compass now around my neck. I called FRB ten minutes later. No reception. This went on for about ten minutes, and I finally found some kind of trod. Maybe it’s the race route? It wasn’t. Now I can’t remember in what order these things happened, but I saw two cairns on a rise and thought they would be a useful thing to head for, so I did. I vaguely remembered seeing cairns on the way up. The trod petered out. I kept going south-south-west and came to a limestone gully. Finally I had some reception.

FRB: Can you describe where you are?

Me: I’m in a, I don’t know how to describe it. Not a valley or a plateau. A sort of sweeping thing. (Maybe the word was “cutting”.)

FRB: Okaaaaay. Keep going south-west.

I had asked him earlier to call the race director to let him know I was lost. But there was no number to call on the race number, or on the mountain race website. FRB said he had finally found it on the FRA site, but that he hadn’t called, because he knew the last runner — Antonio from Otley Runners — hadn’t gone past him yet, and until he did, I wasn’t lost.

I jumped down a short limestone drop and headed on. Finally I came to a wall, and phoned again.

FRB: I think I saw you. Can you wave?

I waved.

FRB: Hmmm. Not sure. Can you jump?

Me: Not really, I’m standing on rocks.

FRB: Can you crouch?

I crouched.

FRB: Yes! It’s you.

Now in front of me there were grazing fields and there in the distance, like the yellow brick road, shiny with promise, was the race route track. Only I was standing in front of a wall with barbed wire and no gate in sight. I asked forgiveness of the Countryside Code, checked I could only see sheep and not cows, and found a place to climb over the wall. I was careful not to dislodge anything. I ran down the next field, almost running into a dozing sheep — my version of the gala obstacle race — then over another wall (sorry, landowners), along the next field and then, oh my god, there was a field gate, and there was the track and I was back on it.

I thought I must have done many more miles, but in fact my particular race route and the actual race route weren’t that different in length. Duration though: where I reached the path, there was under a mile to the finish, and I ran down it with FRB, into the village, through the car park, down the very steep grassy bank, where I nearly took out a heedless father and toddler LOOK OUT RUNNER COMING LOOK OUT, then I sprinted to the finish. A five-year-old lad handed me two bottles of water and said very seriously how worried he was because someone had come down with a bleeding leg wound. It had taken me 1 hour and 50 minutes to run under seven miles. I assured the toddler I was fine, and then FRB and I headed straight for the ice-cream van.

At this point I was delirious with relief, which I was about to exacerbate with sugar. I was so relieved, I didn’t care that I’d come third from last, or that the woman behind me might have wondered why I suddenly appeared in front of her like a genie only one that climbs a field gate. The DOH! shame came later. We ate ice-cream, headed off to find tea, and found Randolph from Kirkstall who told me — oh marvellous Ingleton — that there were hot showers and a changing room. This, at the kinds of races I do, is five stars. I told Randolph I had got lost, and he said,

How the hell did you get lost? It’s an out-and-back?

On Instagram, I posted something about the race saying I’d got lost, and Josh, who won it, commented, “how did you get lost? It’s an out-and-back!”

On Strava, someone posted, “how did you get lost? It’s an out-and-back!”

I got lost because I got giddy and it was claggy. From Strava, I learned that I had crossed the race route, then carried on, so ended about half a mile out of my way. In those conditions, it’s not surprising that by that point when I realised things had gone wrong that I couldn’t see or hear anyone. Anyway, I got more of a fell run out of it than anyone else in the race.Nothing like making your own way between checkpoints. Via limestone gullies, hidden pot-holes, cliffs and barbed wire.

Lessons: get out the compass at the first opportunity. Pay attention. Have FRB on the other end of the phone. Do not get lost.

Weets

Weets

“Do you fancy doing weets?”

“Do I fancy doing what?”

“It’s a race. Called Weets. A bit like a mini Tour of Pendle.”

Ah. That clinched it. Although I know this is perverse, I’m very fond of Tour of Pendle, maybe because I got a 25 minute minute PB on it last year on my birthday, or because I feel like a steely adventurer, Ernest Shackleton-like, when I remember the year before when I ran much of it through a snow blizzard. Even so, Weets should not have been an option: an hour’s drive to run just over five miles slightly skews the miles-mileage scale that I usually operate under. (This translates as: distance travelled vs distance to run. High Cup Nick is the one race that is immune to this scale.) So, up early on Saturday morning and over to The Other Side where the clubs are called Trawden and Barlick and they talk different. The weather forecast predicted heat, but I was chilly in the car and the sky looked overcast, so I was unprepared. I didn’t apply suncream and I set off wearing a buff. Idiot. The race HQ was a small marquee in Letcliffe Park outside Barnoldswick (which I’ve only lately realised is where Barlick gets its name and that Barlick isn’t a place. To this, my clubmate Jenny said, “Rose, there are some things you don’t admit to.”) The park is hidden off Manchester Road so that even when your sat nav tells you you’re there, you think you aren’t. Only the sight off to the right of juniors running up and down a hill made me realise I was in the right place, and a phone call to already arrived folk got me into the ample car parking on the field in the park, which I’d never otherwise have found.

£5 entry, which is just acceptable on the other well-known metric of fell-running, the Wallace-Buckley scale, a joint Yorkshire-Scottish effort named for its inventors, that dictates that no race should cost more than a pound per mile. This has the handy effect of ruling out most road races, so is very useful. There were more people at Weets than I’d expected, but maybe everyone else was fond of Tour of Pendle too. I like small fell races, but I also like race fields that are big enough that my chances of being right at the back are minimised.

Up we go to the tarmac lane where the start is, and there is some milling. The NLFR team consisted of me and Jenny, so we had a collegiate photo with FRB, Karen and Gary from P&B where our vests managed to almost perfectly reflect the race profile.

This might actually stop FRB from telling me that my vest sash is going in the wrong direction and the usual conversation:

FRB: It’s supposed to cross over your heart
Me: The heart is in the middle of the chest
FRB: Yes but it’s still going the wrong way
Me: No it isn’t
etc

Then from me, some dynamic stretching, also known as reminding my glutes they have work to do and not leave everything to the hamstrings. I’ve just been diagnosed with hamstring tendinopathy. I got a niggle a couple of weeks ago, which I definitely noticed when I ran Helvellyn and the Dodds, a race I still have to write a report about. It has not got worse but not got better so I went to my usual physio, Coach House in Leeds and was seen by the affable and very clear and explanatory Rob Hobkinson, (my usual physio — if “usual” is “I see her once a year” — Lucy is off ministering to the British diving team as she often does) who taught me about inflamed hamstring tendons that get compressed by sitting, which is why my pain is absent in the morning but worse if I sit down. But Rob also told me these magic words:

You
Can
Still
Run

So I did. Eck though it was hot. The buff came off straight away and I was thankful that I had conformed to my usual policy of always running with water even when hardly anyone else did. Up we go, up the tarmac road, and I felt sluggish and heavy but kept going. Lots of Barlick supporters, so many that I began to think my name was Nicola, as it was constantly shouted in my direction. (She was just behind me.) Up and up to the trig point on Weets Hill, where I was surprised to see runners already coming back down, and they all seemed to be aged about 11. I cheered them on, of course, then later found out that a juniors’ race had set off with us but was just going to the trig and back. So they weren’t actually leading our race. But still, well done.

After the trig, a lovely descent, whoosh, which was so good I forgot that we’d be going up again. I’d checked the race profile and knew that there were four climbs and that we’d only done two. Still, whoosh. The next climb was definitely the mini-Pendle one. I’d drunk plenty by that point but still felt a bit drained, and even more so when I looked up and saw a hill with no end. So I did my usual technique of counting. I have an entente cordiale method of getting up hills: if they are really huge (Whernside, Clough Head), I count in French. Backwards. Having a tired brain figure out the right order for deux cents quatre vingts dix neuf gets you up about thirty feet. I can get up Whernside in 300 in French, but Clough Head was about quatre cents. For smaller hills I use English. One to ten, for as many times as it takes. It passes the time, your brain is distracted enough not to think of all the climb you haven’t yet done, and you keep moving.

There was another fine descent down a familiar grassy field (the route is an out and back with a loop, so classic lollipop), where I ran past a fellow, while exclaiming, “I like this bit!”. He rightly ignored this, an example of the Fell Running Observations of the Bleeding Obvious. Then up a tarmac lane, back over the fields, a bit of narrow trod moorland running where I could feel blokes breathing closely behind me, but they didn’t ask to pass so I didn’t offer.

I didn’t realise they were *that* close

I hadn’t recognised Eileen Woodhead on the way out as she had a big floppy hat on, but it’s hard to miss Dave as he usually yells something at me. On the way out it was “I DIDN’T RECOGNISE YOU WITH YOUR NEW VEST ON” (“new” meaning about a year old). On the way back it was “DON’T LET THOSE TRAWDEN LADS GET YOU.” I tried not to, putting on a sprint down the lane to the finish that impressed me and probably shocked my muscles into remembering when I used to be a sprinter 35 years ago. (Coach FRB’s response: “Really good running form. No flailing foot. Arms a bit too much across your body though.”)

One of the lads did pass me and the other one didn’t, which is OK with me. I managed to put the brakes on in time at the finish funnel, so didn’t take out any of the marshals, and then there was the usual splendid fell running tradition of people you finish around saying well done and you saying well done back. I deviated slightly from this by telling the Trawden “lad” (actually a six-foot 40ish fully grown man) not to tell Dave he’d beaten me. Then I downed several cups of squash and we went to a very fine pub and I ate a veggie burger that was bigger than me and all was well.