Rombalds Stride: The Return

When I am running, I think of lots of things to write about. I get a thought, or I observe something, and think: that can go in the blog. Then I forget everything. The forgetting gets bigger and bigger as I get more and more tired. And when I ran 22 miles over moors in pelting rain for four hours and thirty-seven minutes on Saturday, I got very very tired.

I love the Rombalds Stride. I did it last year, and I think I’ll do it every year that I can. It’s a 22 mile race, technically, but I actually ran 21.6 miles though I’m not sure where I cut the half-mile off. I was nervous the night before and had a stress dream about getting to the race and forgetting my fell shoes, then the rest of the dream was me trying to find an access point to enter the race, only I never did. So I woke up in a grumpy mood at 6.05am, ate toast and drank lots of tea, then set off for Guiseley. I’d checked the weather forecast every day of the preceding week, and it had never changed.

Rain. Constant, copious rain. It was due to start raining at 9am. We were due to start running at 9am.

Kit: I consulted with FRB, and then decided on a Helly base layer, club vest, waterproof jacket, shorts, my lucky rainbow race socks, my beloved Injinji foot socks, and a waistpack that contained:

4 gels
Half a dozen marzipan & nut balls
A woollen hat
Some long tights
Waterproof trousers
A photocopied map of the race route
Compass
Whistle
Survival blanket (though I took that out)
A spare pair of mittens
A spare pair of gloves
A pouch of water

I didn’t need the food or water, as the route is dotted with laden food and drink stalls. So, I got to the school in Guiseley which is the race HQ, as it’s next-door to the HQ of Guiseley Scouts, who run the event. As usual, there was a mix of walkers and runners. Everyone was bundled up so the easiest way to spot the difference was to look down at the feet. Boots = walkers. Fell shoes = runners. Ugg boots = god knows. I arrived, registered, got my punch-card, which had to be stamped at 12 checkpoints (including one bucket drop, where you have to drop a token in a bucket). What I should have done then is tie the punch-card around my neck with the string provided, immediately. But I didn’t. I went to move my car, as I’d been told the leisure centre might ticket it, and parked it a five minute walk away, got back to the school, then realised I’d left the punch-card and string on the dashboard.

See. Dreams do come true.

So I walked back to the car and got changed there instead: Compression socks on, gloves on, headband on, banana scoffed. I’d brought coffee to drink but couldn’t stomach it. Then to the school to find FRB, and out to the start point, over the A65 and to an undistinguished spot on an industrial estate near McDonalds. I felt OK though I had no idea how I was going to run 22 miles. But then, I always feel like I have no idea how to run at all. I stand at race starts and try to figure out physiologically what I must do to run, and it seems impossible. Then the race starts and I run.

I was hoping to run with people I knew, but there was no-one at my pace, so I set off on my own and stayed like that for the whole race. I was uncertain about some of the route in the first half, and my mind played tricks on me so that I was convinced that after one section, through a field then up a steep road, led to the first checkpoint, up a steep hill. But it didn’t. It was a mile later, and inbetween there were more fields. It was raining, so I had started in my waterproof and never took it off. But even so, I was warm enough to take my gloves off. So I know that this picture was taken early on:

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The trouble with rain isn’t the wet but the visibility. There were some stretches of the moor that I should have known, but with all the mist and fog, it all looked the same. It all looked like nothing more than the next step, and the faint outline of a hi-vis top somewhere off ahead.

It’s daft to rely on other people as navigators, because they may not know where they’re going either, but I was lucky, and I was never really alone. We headed up to Baildon Moor, to the checkpoint at the trig point. I took a few pictures:

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But the procedure to take pictures involved stopping, taking my gloves off, pulling my waistpack around, fetching my phone wrapped in a plastic bag, taking it out of the bag and then doing the whole thing in reverse. And it was just too cold and wet to do that. So this is the lot.

During the next stretch of moorland, I fell arms first into a bog, so stopped and put on my Christmas present: some Montane Prism mitts. I’m mentioning those because they are magical. After another ten miles, my hands were soaking wet, I could feel that the insides of the mitts were soaking wet too, and yet they still kept my hands warm. Amazing things.

What else? Along the way there were stalls offering treats, cakes, biscuits, usually hot or cold drinks. I drank my first ever mid-race cup of tea and it was delicious. The marshalls were cheery and lovely despite having to stand out in that weather for probably eight hours (by the time the walkers had finished). On the top of the next moor, apparently past the Twelve Apostles (for there was no sign of them in the mist), there was a mile or so of flagstones. I remembered them from last year, when they were skating stones because of the ice, and it was perilous to try to overtake anyone because you didn’t know whether your foot would go through snow into a deep bog or some nice springy heather. This year they were just wet. And again, I was convinced I knew that at the end we would come to some big rocks and do a hairpin turn and hit the Millenium Way.

No. Nothing like. There was more moor, and more, and Whetstone Gate, and then more, and by this time I was running automatically. I must have lost some brain cells too because I got down nearly to the path up to White Wells, where there was a fork, and my brain thought, why are those people standing around in this weather, and I turned and said to the people running behind me, which way? And they pointed towards the people who were standing around in this weather, and said “Checkpoint!”. Idiot. I stopped for another cup of tea, then headed up to White Wells and Rocky Valley. On the recce I did with FRB, I dropped him at Menston and drove to Guiseley to set off to meet him, and made myself a mantra of his instructions. It was something like: White Wells right, Rocky Valley, left fork, beck, right. But it was more poetic than that. Anyway I forgot the mantra and I forgot which way to go at the fork, though I remembered FRB saying “NEVER go up the steps,” which some people do. You can choose your routes on Rombald’s as long as you make all the checkpoints. FRB’s club-mate Dave, who was also running, managed to cut a corner and miss a checkpoint, but at that point he was so tired and wet, he couldn’t be bothered to go back. It was colder on the tops, but by now I had all sensible layers on. Above White Wells, there was the extremely surprising sight of Lucy and Ben from my club who despite the awful weather had come out to support, with a very large umbrella. Thanks, Lucy and Ben! Lucy also took a picture of me looking a lot fresher than I felt:

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So, up the left fork, over Coldstone Ghyll, immediately right up through the heather, then along a path to Pancake Rock, to the left, then down into Burley-in-Wharfedale. For some reason I can remember the urban stuff. We got through Menston, then took a path off to what I knew was a long stretch of fields and stiles. About five stiles, at a stage in the race – mile 19 or so – when even one stile feels like stepping over this: 449444

After about two stiles, I gave up. I was so exhausted. I’d eaten something along the way that gave me stomach cramps, I felt like I needed an emergency toilet, and couldn’t tell whether I’d crapped in my pants or not (a not unknown situation for runners). My left calf was very painful and had been for miles, and all in all I was pissed off. I walked through two fields, and I’ve never done that before. But then I had a look at my watch and started calculating. There was a long downhill coming up to the bottom of the Chevin, then a steep climb up which should take about 20 minutes, then if I pelted it the last two miles down into Guiseley, maybe I could beat last year’s time! I did it 4:28 last year, and if my sodden brain was calculating properly, I could maybe, maybe do it in 4:15, and almost certainly in under 4:28.

I got a shift on. The climb up Chevin was awful, but it always is. I walked all the way to the top then did my best at pelting. It was downhill to the road, down the road, then along a track that is usually rife with deep puddles and bogs. It’s also not flat. I’d had enough by now. I ran straight through one big puddle, and someone running next to me said, “That’s the spirit, eh: Fuck it!”

Quite. I told him about my calculations that we could make it back in under 4:30 and I remember him looking a little puzzled. I assumed he just hadn’t heard me properly.

There was another stretch of track that I’d totally forgotten about, then a long tanking down into the town. I made my legs go as fast as they could. I got a cheer from one club-mate sitting in one car, and another from some other friends who are far faster than me and had probably already been hanging around for an hour, so were on their way home. I got back to the school, though there were times on this run when I thought that would never happen, and this year I remembered not to flop down on a chair for two minutes, but to go straight to the desk and report back. I checked my watch and internally yelled with joy:

4.15!!!

I was ecstatic. But I was ecstatic in a I-need-to-go-to-the-toilet-and-not-move-for-ten-minutes kind of way. Which I did. Finally I got the energy to get changed, then went to find FRB in the school dining hall. He said, how did you do, and I showed him my watch and said 4:15!!! and did a little jig. He said, with faint puzzlement, “that’s outstanding,” and we headed over to sit down with some friends. FRB asked Kieran, who is usually quicker than me, what time he’d done, and he said, 4:20.

Eh?

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

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Oh.

Yes.

So much for my outstanding time. I finally figured out that I’d done 4:37 instead. And that that was outstanding in its own way, given the conditions. FRB had done it 15 minutes slower than the year before too. So I was very proud of myself, and began to eat the free pie and spuds, until I realised I couldn’t actually eat anything. I drank many cups of tea, ate a few biscuits, then went to fetch this year’s prizes: a water bottle, a patch and a certificate:

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My lovely new Garmin watch told me that although I hadn’t beaten my time, I had comprehensively over-achieved in my daily steps challenge. Silver linings, eh?

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Afterwards, I was a bit tired. When I did the London marathon in 2014, I didn’t do any exercise for a week. This time, I was doing a negative split, very fast, by the Tuesday. Well done, legs.

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Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Auld Lang Syne

It’s that time of year again, when the hills above Haworth suddenly fill with running reindeer, a near-naked caveman, a cat in a hat, a Star Wars rebel fighter, complete with cardboard jet, an emu, Captain America, Freddie Mercury, a werewolf, a hare and a tortoise (Hal and Helen) and a brace of other oddities. Oh, and some fell runners. Yes, it was Auld Lang Syne again, possibly the most popular race of those put on by Dave and Eileen Woodhead, also known as  Woodentops. Fancy dress isn’t obligatory but at the world-famous prize-giving afterwards, it gives you a much better chance of getting some chocolates and a bottle of beer.

I went as Dangermouse, by means of a white forensic suit, white face paint, mouse ears and an eye patch. I really don’t like fancy dress as it makes me anxious, and though I’d thought about this costume for weeks, the eventual result was a bit rubbish. Also when we assembled in the quarry which is the start for all Woodentops races, serenaded by a bagpiper in a kilt, I realised I couldn’t see with the patch on, and the ears fell over. Oh well. FRB loves fancy dress, and always makes his own. This year he was a Star Wars rebel fighter, complete with cardboard box X-wing jet with felt flames coming out of the jet engines. It was as good as mine was rubbish.

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Dave Woodhead yelled at us as he normally does, and all I heard was, if you don’t take care when you cross the road, that’s your silly fault, and off we went. Up, up and up. Since when did fell races contain so much up? Oh. Always. It was hard, but it wasn’t raining, and the biting cold at the start seemed to abate, though actually I was just getting hotter, as before the start I’d stepped out of the car in the car park and nearly froze on the spot, so I stuck on an extra warm layer. There were supporters out, including plenty of children, so it was lucky I’d stuck Dangermouse’s name on the back of my not-remotely-looking-like-Dangermouse outfit, so that when I approached, they said, “well done….” and as I passed, “oh! Dangermouse!” All support was very welcome, as I was finding it pretty hard: I was exhausted after the first mile.

There was a beck to run through at the  beginning, which was fun, then up more and more, to the part of the route that is a switchback, so for a while I was entertained by the seriously speedy dashing past, some in fancy dress, including that near naked Victorian strong-man in his leopard-skin Speedos. Luckily he was going so fast my eyes didn’t have to hurt.

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Picture ©Julie Guy

Then onwards to Withins ruin, up a bit more, and then, thank goodness, some skyline then some blessed downhill. The reindeer in front of me stopped for a toilet break, which looked like it was would be tricky, but I carried on though I wouldn’t have minded a toilet break too: but no way was I going to stop and deal with a forensic suit tied tightly at the waist with a rubber belt that was wrapped in gold tinsel. So, on, and on, running straight through every puddle and bog I could see, because it’s fun, then the steep field before the beck, that was now a bit of a mudslide. I’d been looking forward to going down it on my backside but it didn’t look muddy enough, so I pelted down it upright instead, a big splash through the beck again, and then a slow trudge up the steep field on the other side. The woman running in front of me, who wore a t-shirt on which was written Naughty Nurses Fell Rescue Team, and was wearing knickers, tights and suspenders, retrieved her dog from a passing supporter, and then was suddenly running faster as the dog pulled her along. That’s not sporting! I want a dog too!

Never mind: the end was near, up through the car park, and the final stretch until a much needed cup of tea, glass of sherry and Christmas cake and cheese, provided by my clubmate Alyson (who, as she looked at the cheese I’d dropped, said, “what kind of a mouse are you?”). Then to the prize giving in the Old Sun pub, as famous as the race itself, where winners – the men’s winner is usually a Brownlee, but they weren’t there this year – get a crown first, then are loaded with so many prizes they can barely walk. There are prizes for fancy dress too, and then in the spirit of generosity, chocolates are flung into the crowd. Last year I got a Cadbury’s Caramel in my eye. This year I survived unharmed by small chocolate bars. It’s a wonderful race, now it’s over, and I’ve had chips, and I’ll do it again, though with a better costume next time. If you’d like to see what a bunch of fell runners in fancy dress slopping through mud looks like, here are the Woodentops videos. And a very happy new year to you.

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Picture ©Julie Guy

Moors and water

It’s almost time for Rombald Stride again. I loved it last year, and I will do it this year. But it’s 23 miles over moorland, and theoretically self-navigated (last year there were enough people around me that I only got lost once). So a recce – a reconnaissance run, to non-runners – is always useful, especially with my dreadful topographical memory. There was only one problem: haemoglobin. I gave blood again about two weeks ago. This time, after my last donation, I knew that my oxygen capacity would be affected for six weeks, not the 24 hours that NHSBT airily tells you about. But this time it seems to have been harder than before. It could also be due to the sertraline I’m taking, but I’m generally tired, tired and tired. I’m still running, but I have no oomph, mojo, zing or zest. I sleep a LOT. I don’t feel fit, though I am and though I can do what I did yesterday, which was run for 14 miles from Guiseley to Ilkley over the moors.

There were four of us: me, FRB, Tony and Sara. Sara used to be my pace but has got considerably faster, but she kept me company all the way round. It was a clear and mild day, though we all had full kit: a waterproof top and bottoms, spare mittens (some super lightweight gorgeous Montane ones that FRB got me for Christmas), drink, chocolates and mince pies. You never know what weather the moors will choose to throw at you. We were planning to stop for lunch in Ilkley afterwards, then get the train back to Guiseley. Bradford trains were still running; Leeds trains, because of the shocking floods, were not.

Sara hadn’t done Rombald’s before. I have, but can’t remember most of it. So we set off with FRB leading, trying to learn the route. McDonalds, first, for a toilet stop. Sara said, are we just going to use the toilet without buying anything? Hell, yes, I have no problem with exploiting McDonald’s. Then off, under a bridge, through a muddy field, up into the woods then down to Esholt. Guiseley hadn’t been flooded, and the field was wet but not flooded either. But as soon as we dropped down to Esholt, the water took over. The river was raging, and although it was clear some water had receded, by the rubbish and debris stuck to the fences like bizarre streams of bunting, we passed people who had just finished emptying their house of belongings. “You should have come past ten minutes earlier,” they said, and we said, of course we would have helped, that we were so sorry, then ran on. The lane became a small tarn, and to our right, a caravan park had become a lake with a few caravans peeking out of the water, like weird white islands. “Look,” said Tony, and we stood to stare at an astonishing sight: the mangled remains of a caravan, wrapped around a tree. I was shocked: I’ve seen all the streets in Leeds and York and the Calder Valley under water, and buses floating down streets, but this was the most violent example of the water’s power that I’d seen. And I suppose I’d better get used to it.

We ran on, up to Baildon moor, with its russet and brown gorse and heather, and up and over, past Sandy Gallops, the estate owned by Harvey Smith, a show jumper I remember watching on TV when I was young, then down past a reservoir, where we stopped for mince pies. I felt pathetic. My legs were managing to move, but not fast. Although, I had run for seven miles the day before, which probably contributed. But I was sluggish up hills and always, always glad of a walk or a stop. At the top of one moor, we stopped to have pictures taken:

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As usual, the contrast between our clothing and what walkers were wearing – thick coats, hats, gloves, scarves – was funny. But I wasn’t cold, until the temperature dropped when we dropped down from Baildon Moor and up to Rombalds Moor. I could explain where that is by saying that Rombalds is part of Ilkley Moor, but actually Ilkley is part of Rombalds. It’s named after the giant Rombald, who was fleeing an enemy, stamped on a rock and formed the Cow and Calf. “The enemy, it is said, was his angry wife. She dropped the stones held in her skirt to form the local rock formation The Skirtful of Stones.” If that isn’t true, it should be.

On a clear day, it is a beautiful place.

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There were other hills to climb, then rocks to descend, and trods between bracken. There were instructions from FRB to be remembered, to keep a wall on my right, or head for the mast, but I doubt I’ll remember them. I’ll follow the person in front on the assumption they know where they are going, which is a dangerous and daft assumption in a race. But it is what I’ll do. High on Burley Moor, we passed the Twelve Apostles, though I was so tired by that point, I’d have missed them if FRB hadn’t pointed them out.

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Then there were flagstones across the moor towards Ilkley. They were long, long, long, and it was strange to run with such fierce concentration on my feet, so much that I went into a sort of trance. It was lovely.

I’ve probably remembered this in all the wrong order, but so be it. I do know that we ended up on the Millennium Way, and that walkers began to multiply, and were less bothered about saying hello – on the tops, everyone greets each other, in common sympathy at being insignificant humans in a wild place – and we stopped so that Sara could put on and break in my Montane mittens, because her hands were freezing. The walkers stared at the mud on our legs, which was significant. No-one had fallen, but there had been plenty of knee-high steps into black bogs. We reached the road to White Wells, and ran down into town, into another world of sale shoppers. I heard a group of young men say, “fell runners!” though I don’t know if it was with awe or disdain. We searched for a place to eat that would accept us in our muddy state, and found La Stazione cafe in the station, where FRB ordered a hot chocolate “with everything,” and I had a cup of hot tea and a toasted cheese sandwich and it was like a banquet.

I was slow, and it was hard, but I loved it. I went home and slept, and slept some more, and then some more for luck.

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Badgers, mud and rage

Saturday
I have a bad habit of doing myself down. I’m back running, I’m relatively fit, and I love both of those facts, but still I focus too much on how much slower I am than last year. I’ve lost a minute per mile at least. I find myself running through races self-chastising myself all the way round for not being faster. Admittedly, the narrative is a positive one, sort of, as it consists of “how can I get faster?” and I find myself plotting new training schedules, training with fell running clubs, secretly getting a coach and surprising FRB with my amazing fell running ability in a month or two (I won’t, not least because it’s not secret now I’ve written it here). I did that on Saturday at Badger Bar Blast, a new fell race hosted by Ambleside AC in Ambleside, which started near the Badger Bar, and then headed up to Loughrigg hill/fell/small mountain, then to Silver How, another one, then back up and down Loughrigg. 2200 feet, just under seven miles.

This wasn’t my last chance to qualify for the Three Peaks, but it would mean that I’m not obliged to run 20 miles across the Peak district in January. I could actually have done another qualifying race in February or March, but as entries open in February (I think), I wanted to be sure. FRB wasn’t going to come with me or run it but in the end he did both. Even better, he ran around with me. The course was flagged up to Loughrigg, but then you had to make your own way to Silver How and back. I must have looked uncertain enough that he took pity on me and became my personal navigator. Usually I’d be sure to have lots of company at my pace, towards the back of the field, but we didn’t know how many would run the race, and it was very likely that they would all be damn fast Cumbrian fell runners, which they were. I didn’t expect to be guided to my parking place, for example by Ben Abdelnoor. It was going to be a stellar field because the race was being run on the afternoon of the legendary FRA Do. Yes, it’s known as the FRA Do. Neither I nor FRB were going, though I drive around proudly with my Fell Running Association sticker on my car, because neither of us had won prizes.

It was freezing cold. Biting, bitter cold. I’d even had to abandon my usual winter practice of running in only a vest and shorts, and wimped out with a long-sleeved t-shirt. I still ran in shorts though. The parking was in a field about ten minutes walk from the start. We arrived in lots of time, having stopped in Ambleside car park for a toilet visit and to eat some more food: half a marmalade sandwich for me (“are you Paddington?” said FRB) and a half a stale chocolate and cherry croissant. I’d had porridge for breakfast, and as usual with me, it did the opposite of what it’s supposed to do – make you full for a long time – and I was ravenous after an hour.

We knew we could leave bags at the start, so we set off laden along with plenty of other runners, most of them ectomorphs. The registration was in the pub garden, and we loitered outside for a while before figuring out that the pub was open, the toilets were open, and most runners were waiting inside by log fires.

We decided on a plan. FRB would stay with me until the Loughrigg summit. I was nervous enough that I agreed to him running with me though I knew that would be almost uncomfortably slow for him and I would probably feel guilty about holding him back. After Loughrigg, we’d see how many runners there were and then decide whether he would zoom off or not. The race started with a “off you go” or something, and off we went. I’d seen some older women and thought, great, I’ll have some company at the back but oh no. Because these were prize-winning, amazing older women like Wendy Dodds, who are extremely fast no matter how old they are. The views were stunning, the air was crisp and clear, the sun was shining. I kept my gloves on, but was warm enough in t-shirt, vest and shorts. It was up and up and up to Loughrigg, and even the walking parts were hard. As usual I don’t remember much of the route apart from wishing I’d brought my iPhone to take pictures of the rolling fells, the golden bracken and the sunshine on the snowy tops. I soon lost my love of the golden bracken. When we ran through the first lot, I said, “Ow! Since when did bracken hurt?” It scratched like brambles, because it was frozen.

It really was beautiful. I’m going to borrow someone else’s pictures to show you:

22836675899_dc610ad9a8_hPictures ©David Johnson via https://m.flickr.com/#/photos/81024442@N03/sets/72157661523459045/

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There was everything in this race: climbs, fast descents, rocky scrambles, bogs, views. After descending Loughrigg, we had some flattish terrain to cover before going up Silver How. I remember looking up and seeing a very very big hill, next to some smaller hills, and thinking, it won’t be that one will it? Surely not. But it was. I followed FRB, through marsh and bogs (I always get my feet wet as fast as possible, then it’s done), to the ascent of Silver How. I was exhausted. And though I was condemning myself for being so tired, I should have thought: I’ve travelled to the US three times in as many months. I’m jet-lagged, and I’m still doing a hard fell race, so GOOD FOR ME.

By now though all the fast front-runners were coming down as we were struggling up. Actually, only I was struggling up. FRB would have run it all, I think, and he told me afterwards that he couldn’t help wondering where he’d have been in the runners coming down if he’d gone at his own pace. Oops. Sorry. And thank you. I didn’t recognise anyone, though one of my fell running heroes, Victoria Wilkinson, came past me, as I realised later when she got a prize. I got to the top and was so battered the marshal had to repeat “round the cairn please” because I was in no fit state to hear her. Then, a blessed descent. We ended up running with a young woman, and FRB inadvertently took us on a bit of a detour to avoid a slippery rocky scramble down. We lost a few minutes, but never mind; we were so far back it didn’t matter. The only reason I knew we weren’t last was because I’d seen about three people trudging up as we were coming back down. The ascent of Loughrigg was hard. But I still overtook someone walking, so my uphill walks are getting better.

I overtook the young woman on the descent, then fell when my feet slipped on rock. Later I overtook her again, but she beat me on the flat to the finish, maybe because she was younger and had longer legs. Or just because she was faster. Later she told us this was her first fell race and that she’d been training with Ambleside. I try not to think of the Cumbrian clubs as the fell running elite, but when you see how close they are to such fabulous training routes, it’s undeniable. They are good.

Back at the Badger Bar, there was soup and rolls. I posed for a picture with my “I’ve qualified for the Three Peaks” smile. And I won a prize! It was an extremely generous prize-giving, and after the usual prizes for fast people, the announcer offered prizes for
1. anyone who is going to the FRA Do who hasn’t got a prize
2. anyone who supports Blackburn Rovers
3. anyone for whom it’s their first fell race
4. anyone who has never gone up Loughrigg before. (Me!) (I got fudge!)

I’ve never won a prize, I probably never will, so I’ll treasure the fudge. Or at least eat it with reverence.

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Sunday
No rest. It was the first PECO cross country fixture of the season, at the beautiful Temple Newsam. I’d got a groin strain on the Badger Bar Blast and was a bit concerned about it, but it felt slightly better in the morning. And for once it wasn’t a godawful early start. There are so many people doing PECO now that there are two starts, one for the men, and then ten minutes later the women. This isn’t popular with a lot of the fast women, who find themselves sometimes stuck behind the back-of-the-pack men. At Temple Newsam, they got stuck behind men walking three abreast up one narrow path. Not good. As usual, it was great to see all the flags and gazebos, every club staking their claim like a Game of Thrones army on a battlefield. It was cold, but I was going to run in full vest (that’s vest only) and skirt, so I warmed up with Hannah, one of the few club mates who believes in warming up. There’s still a certain disdain in my club for warming up, which I don’t understand.

The men set off, then us. I was behind a clubmate who has been beating me recently, partly because I’m slower, mostly because she’s faster and running well. I overtook her and managed to stay in front all the way round, with a few glances over my shoulder. She had run a trail half marathon the day before, but so had I: nearly two hours on my feet up and down Ambleside counts as a half. I thought I’d be knackered after the day before but I felt good, actually. My legs worked, I overtook people, particularly on descents. It was sunny and beautiful, and all was well. It was also fantastic to see one of our club members running again, as he collapsed during a club training session with a heart attack only three months ago, and nearly died. Welcome back, Peter.

It was only on the final approach to the finish, up a field that had been churned to mud by 200 men and about 100 women who had run it before me, that my legs suddenly felt sapped. I was close behind a Chapel Allerton runner who had just overtaken me, and as usual FRB cheered me on by saying “you can catch those two!” and normally I would, because I have a good sprint finish. But I had nothing in my legs. And maybe more importantly, I didn’t care. So I didn’t catch her, but the race was fun, and there was soup and a roll afterwards (always the route to a runner’s heart).

Tuesday
Tuesday started badly. I checked my emails soon after I’d woken up and found a disturbing and rather shitty one. Work-related, and there’s a long history behind it, but still it was a shock. I was working from home as my studios are being renovated, but I couldn’t settle. Finally I put on my running kit. I had to run it off. I don’t rage run often, but it usually works. I drove up to Harewood, and set off. I shouldn’t have run really, or if I had, I should have followed my new training plan devised by FRB, but I couldn’t see beyond my rage and needing to run it away. So I ran, and ran, and ran. I stopped and walked sometimes, but I ran all the hills. I did the 4.5 mile loop, all the way round the estate and through my favourite secret gate which is not secret at all but looks it:

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and then I turned around and ran all the way back. Because when the scenery looks like this, why wouldn’t I want more of it?

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It took about seven miles for me to calm down. I’m still angry about the email, but in a muted way. Rage runs work.

Three runs in four days, most of them acceptable. I am not as fast as I want to be, but I will be. That’s one resolution. The other is to stop doing myself down. I saw a cardiologist last week about my heart murmur, and when he heard how much running I do, he smiled and said, “well I can see where this is going.” He meant, I had nothing to worry about. He meant, I am far fitter than most people my age and I have a strong heart.

So I’m going to start to be proud of what I can do, and focus less on what I can’t.

 

Gisborough Moors

I’m not sure why I’m so determined to run the Three Peaks race. I love moors, and hills, but my two experiences of the Three Peaks have been the most painful blister I’ve ever had, and an exhaustion that lasted for days, after I did a walk with my club in eleven hours, a week or so after running the London marathon. How foolish I was to think that, oh, it’s only a walk. As FRB says sagely, again and again, “It’s time on your feet.” As did Haile, when he told a runner who took four hours to run a marathon that he was impressed. The runner quite reasonably said that running 26.2 miles in five minute miles was more impressive and Haile said, “but you’ve been on your feet for four hours and I couldn’t do that.”

My second experience of the Three Peaks was marshalling on Pen-y-Ghent this year, which was several hours of standing in Pen-y-Ghent’s particular micro-climate of sideways freezing rain and fog, in weather so bad that we were allowed to descend earlier than usual. Then I went to the finish line and stood in more freezing rain for an hour waiting for FRB to come back (that was due to my miscalculation, not his slowness: he beat his 2014 time by nearly an hour).

Neither experience should make me want to spend months training to be able to run 23 miles across and up mud, flagstones, rocks, bogs. But I do want to. It has become a target in my head and I can’t shift it. I don’t think I’m even going to do a marathon next spring. Peaks, peaks, peaks.

But first came the problem of qualifying. About a month ago I noticed that all my fell races were BMs (not as high as A races, and not as long as L races). But Three Peaks requires two BLs or AMs or ALs. Oh dear. There aren’t many suitable races left in the north, but Gisborough Moors was one of them. It’s one of those lovely English eccentricities: Gisborough Moors, near Guisborough. And who knows why the vowel was lost. The race is run by Esk Valley fell running club. FRB and I were both running it, and so were two club-mates, one an experienced fell-runner, and the other a new member who has only started fell-running in the last couple of weeks. He came equipped with his brand new More Mile shoes, and kit that possibly wouldn’t pass FRA inspections (“taped seams? what are they?), but plenty of enthusiasm.

I was nervous. Very nervous. I just can’t seem to get any faster, and this race was going to be tough, from the route profile. Hills and more hills. Also my bloody tendon has started to play up again, so I was worried about that. In short, on a glorious sunny day (once we’d driven through the fog of two Yorkshire vales on the way up to Guisborough), all I could see were clouds. This showed on my face, because at one point FRB said, “why don’t you think of it as a couple of hours running on beautiful moors in sunshine?”

Aye. Why don’t I?

We got there in good time, to the race HQ at Guisborough rugby club. Or maybe Gisborough. I didn’t notice. There were a couple of dozen runners, including a brace of runners from FRB’s club, unexpectedly. They were wanting to get a qualifying race for the Three Peaks too. I ate marzipan balls and drank coffee and not enough water, trying to fuel better than I did for Bronte Way. It’s a 12.5 mile race but with the hills and with time-on-feet, that will feel like 15 or 16 on the road. I’m not sure how I’ve become a runner who blithely – relatively blithely – takes on a half marathon a few weeks after a marathon, but I’m glad I have. I wore my usual race outfit of vest, skirt and hooped (not striped, FRB) socks, though actually this time I wore Inov-8 full socks and not my usual favourite Karrimor socks and calf sleeves. There is a point to that hosiery disclosure. For feet: Inov-8 mud-claws, although there would be mud, trails, tarmac, rocks, bogs, flagstones. Actually I’m being dishonest: I didn’t know what was coming. I prefer not to know what’s coming, unlike FRB who can glance at a race route and it will be perfectly preserved in his head.

The start was in the street outside the rugby club. Apart from our Leeds group, there weren’t many other vests I recognised. There were a couple of Harrogate Harriers, and a couple of Ripon Runners, and a lone Bogtrotter from Edinburgh in their distinctive shit-coloured vest. Most people were wearing waist-packs or rucksacks. Esk Valley had decided not to run a water station, so we had to carry what we needed. I had two small bottles in my waist-pack, plus full kit (waterproofs with taped seams, gloves, hat, compass, whistle, map) plus marzipan balls and gels. It was a sunny day, which was why some people, I suppose, weren’t carrying kit, but that’s just irresponsible. Later in the race, we hit fog, and if you are injured in that, you’ll start to get very cold very quickly, and you’ll be reliant on other runners lending you their kit. Which isn’t right.

The Esk Valley announcer blew a whistle and said, “right, you’re off” or something, which is the kind of race start I like. I’d deliberately started near the back and that’s where I stayed. Before we started, FRB had said, the first mile is like the worst bit of the Chevin, a steep, steep hill that comes at mile 21 of the Rombald Stride race. I said, great. And he was right. A bit of road, a bit of track and then up, up and up. The weather was beautiful, and the race began as stunning and carried on: there were woodland tracks, and long stretches running across moorland, with the fells stretched out on either side, where I actually stopped thinking “I’m too slow” and started thinking “I’m so lucky.” It was beautiful. I didn’t have a camera, and I was so near the back I didn’t dare stop much, but I’ll remember those views, and that feeling. I think the word “freedom” has become empty, because we assume we have it (we don’t, really). But that’s the best word I can think of to describe running across brown and golden moorland, in sunshine, on the first day of November, just because you want to.

Some other things fell running is free from: crowds. Expensive race fees. Endless directions and instructions. I love a good road race too, but that’s why I love fell running.

There were more hills, that I walked, and descents that I ran. Inov-8 Mud Claws are great in bog, good in mud and very hard on the feet on flagstones. With each set of flagstones there was a trail made by the 100 or so runners in front of me, most of whom were wearing fell-shoes and avoided flagstones too. I managed to overtake a few people, and I was faster than them on the downhills, as I spread my arms wide, pretend I’m 10 and fearless, and go helter-skelter. I drank water whenever I was climbing hills, and I had gel and marzipan to keep going, and I felt fuelled and good.

The highlight of the race was Roseberry Topping. This is Roseberry Topping:

111607nExcept yesterday the mist had come down again, and you couldn’t see it. Some people would prefer to see what’s coming: I don’t. So not until I’d run through a field gate, and found the path down – I loved this race, but it wasn’t exactly assiduously flagged or marshalled – and got to the foot of Roseberrry Topping and looked up to see a steep, steep hill and runners walking up it, in a long line, and a couple of walkers were passing me and I started laughing and said, ‘You’ve got to laugh haven’t you?” and headed up. Touch the trig, check in with the checkpoint, and then a long descent down through mud and bracken, and up again, to Little Roseberry and after that there were only two hills to go, plus “a long drag up,” according to a marshal. I managed those, with some walking, some drinking, and a diversion through the heather and bracken on a goat path. I followed two women in front of me because I knew they were local.

A word about “flagging” on fell-races. There are no flags. There are only marshals at checkpoints. Even at checkpoints, on this race the marshals weren’t much use at telling us which way to go. So you must look for a tiny scrap of red and white plastic tape that might be tied to a tree or a fence or a gate. And you must use your map, which you are supposed to carry. But sometimes you don’t see the scrap of tape and just follow the women in front, and you are all running along in some doubt until the goat-track turns right and hits the proper track, just as it was supposed to.

We still got lost though. There were about half a dozen of us who happened to be running close to each other in the last mile. As usual I had failed to recognise that we were going back on the same route that we’d taken at the beginning. I really must pay attention. There was no plastic tape in sight, so we ran along a path going uphill past some woods, but a marshal had told us, with some sincerity, that it was all downhill from then on. And even I knew that we were going back to Gisborough, which was in the valley on the other side of those woods. As usual I relied on other people to read maps and figure out where we were. I must stop doing that. And we decided to cut down through the woods, through brambles and branches. I fell, and caught myself with a bramble, which was unlucky, but then it was downhill. I was running behind a woman from Knavesmire, and I could have sprinted past her, but she’d shown me the path twice so I didn’t think that was polite. Back down the track, back onto the road, under the old railway bridge, and then…

Where was the finish?

There was no clue. There was no sign of it in the street, where I suppose I had assumed it would be. We had to ask a runner who’d finished and was changing at his car. I know fell-races are low-key, but this was unexpected. So we ran into the rugby club, expecting the finish to be a line of chalk or flour or something on the ground. But there were just two men taking down numbers, and it was up to FRB, standing at his car behind them to say, “that’s the finish, Rose!”. He’d had to say it to a dozen other runners before me.

My feet were blistered: the Inov-8 socks hadn’t been enough protection for Inov-8 shoes meeting hard stone. And I needed a shower. Descents are hard on my bladder, and I hadn’t wanted to stop and find a toilet when I was so far back already. But the rugby club didn’t have any, so it was off to the toilets with some wet-wipes again. Another woman was washing at the sink and we looked at each other and she said, “well, you don’t do fell-races for the glamour, do you?”

Later, as FRB and I sat on the sofa, exhausted at 7pm, I said, “we really should be a bit more rock and roll, don’t you think?” He said, “we do our rock and roll during the daytime,” and he’s right. Nowt more rock and roll than running with the wind in your face, and the moors stretching out all around you, and the sweep of the hills and the valleys, and the sun, and the running through bogs and bracken with joy. With abandon. With freedom.

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Wuthering, Withins, courtesy, karma

Hello, Inov-8 Mud-claws. I haven’t seen you for a while. Not since March, in fact, which was the last time the conditions were too tricky for trail shoes. I did Widdop fell race a few months ago, but trail shoes were fine. This time though it was autumn, it was the bogs and moors of the Bronte Way, and it was time to get out the Inov-8s. I have a great habit of signing up for races and forgetting about them. So far FRB and I have had this conversation a few times:

FRB: “We’re doing the Chevin Chase on Boxing Day.”

Me: “Are we? Have we entered?”

FRB (sighs). “Rose, YOU entered us.”

Repeat.

I do though remember filling out an entry form for the Bronte Way and leaving it on the kitchen table when I left for Salt Lake City. Which was a trip. I did my usual tactic of contacting a local running group and asking to run with them, and had a nice email conversation with a woman named Hollie who runs with Salt Lake Runners. She invited me to meet them at 9am on Saturday morning, but in the end I overslept, as I’ve been jet-lagged or recovering from jet-lag for what seems like months now. But she also told me of a great downtown route out of town and up into the canyon. I had no idea where Salt Lake was before I got there. I thought it was a plains city, and dull. But it’s 2000 m altitude and surrounded by stunning mountains. My trip there took 24 hours, and though I was awake at 5am the next morning as usual, the sky was stubbornly dark and by 7am showing no sign of getting lighter. I googled Salt Lake City sunrise, saw that it was 7.45 and couldn’t wait any longer. A gym workout, somewhat made up as there wasn’t much equipment, then to breakfast and to this wonderful contraption:

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I was in Salt Lake to attend the World Parliament of Religions, and this was my first experience of having breakfast surrounded by Sikhs wearing white, Native Americans in fringed suede and beads, and all sorts of others, from Muslims to pagans. It was fun. The next day I decided I would run. I followed Hollie’s instructions and ran north up State Street, up the wide, wide streets that the Mormon leader Brigham Young had built so that a troupe of oxen could be easily turned around. At the junction by the rather terrifying Mormon Office Building (yes, that’s what it’s called), I took a left through a small park, then a larger park, and then I kept going, up and up, into City Creek canyon. The city disappeared rapidly. I ran through woods for a bit, then onto the service road, which is closed to all traffic except service vehicles and bikes. When I ran up the road again on Sunday, it was closed to bikes too, as a deer hunt was going on. It was not an easy run. I was 2000 metres above sealevel and climbing; I was jet-lagged, and I hadn’t eaten enough food the night before. Really, it was more of a shuffle, but it was a very scenic shuffle.

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I had to keep stopping and gawping, because Utah is gawpingly beautiful. I ran three miles uphill, ate some raisins, then pegged it back, slightly faster. Then I ate my bodyweight in pancakes again. On Saturday I went hiking with a Facebook friend up to Little Cottonwood Canyon, which is accessible only by car, like most trail routes in the Salt Lake tourist info, except for the City Creek one. And on Sunday I ran up the canyon again. It was quieter this time. And oddly, although Salt Lake is easily the smiliest, friendliest city I’ve ever visited, I ran past plenty of runners who didn’t acknowledge me. Except one who wondered aloud why I was taking pictures of an outdoor public toilet. I said, because it’s great. He said, “well, it sure is in a pretty place” and headed off up the canyon. I did 7 miles this time, to prepare for another 24 hours of travel. It was good.

Home after four days, and more jet-lag. But I still wanted to run. When I ran the London marathon in 2013, I rested for a couple of weeks. After this year’s Yorkshire marathon, I went running after 48 hours, and I felt fine. So I went to club training. Most of the club was doing a bleep test, and I didn’t want to, so a few of us headed out on a boring but flat route along Kirkstall Road, then a less boring and less flat route through Burley and up Burley Hill. I was running on my own, as apparently I was the fastest that night. I ran at a pace that would get aeroplanes and queues and crowds out of my system. I wanted air and wind.

On Friday I did a workout in the park with some hills thrown in, and on Sunday FRB and I set off to do the Bronte Way. It’s a linear race, a BM in FRA categorization. Perhaps it’s time for a key:

  • FRB = Fell Running Boyfriend
  • BM = a medium length not too steep fell race according to FRA categories
  • FRA = Fell Running Association

It starts in Lancashire and finishes in Yorkshire, at the Fleece Inn pub in Haworth, halfway up that famous cobbled street. We arrived at Haworth just after nine, to be transported by minibus to the start in Wycoller Woods. Race HQ was in a converted barn there (and there were toilets!) and we would then leave our bags in the minibus and collect them at the finish. Only 80 people had pre-entered, but it was a beautiful day – sunny, but not too warm – so there were plenty of entries on the day. In the end 217 people entered, which was a record. As usual, FRB had optimistically talked me through the race. Optimistically, because I never retain information like that so that at the end of the race, I’d say, “you told me there was only one hill! You lied!” He does have form for that, but this time he hadn’t lied. He’d said there was a sharp hill near the start, and then another one that everyone walks. I do remember the bit about the bogs near the beck. He didn’t mean toilets.

I started near the back. I was in my usual race-going kit of vest, skirt, and lurid socks. I was the only Kirkstall Harrier running, a condition known in my club as The Lonely Purple:

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There were dozens of Stainland Lions, as it was a club championship race for them, and plenty of familiar fell-running clubs like Baildon and Clayton-le-Moors and Trawden. I girded my GPS, and off we went up a woodland track. Apparently according to Human Sat-Nav FRB, we ran this for a mile, then through a stile then a kissing gate then the hill. Though it may have been hill then kissing gate. When it comes to remembering race routes, even when I’ve just run them, I’m an Impressionist, and he is a Photo-Realist.

This, though I do remember: fairly early on, there was a narrow track for a mile or two. It was an occasion where a long line of people forms, there are no passing places, and normal fell-running convention is to bide your time, or if you’re really desperate, to ask if you can pass. I was behind a young man who was doing his first fell-race. He was very careful with the technical bits. He didn’t stop and walk, but he slowed, because he wasn’t too sure of his feet. This is perfectly acceptable and reasonable and though I could have passed him and gone faster, I was happy to wait. Behind me I could hear a woman breathing heavily. After a while, each time the lad slowed in front, her breathing became sighing, then tutting. I was about to invite her to pass so I didn’t have to listen to her any more, when, after he slowed a bit more than usual at a particular bit of bog and slippery rock, she said loudly, “OH COME ON” and without thinking, I turned round and said “Shut up! That’s so rude.” I turned back, and behind me she said, “Maybe I was saying that to myself,” and I replied, “Aye, but you weren’t, were you?” It was rude, and it enraged me because it would have intimidated the lad in front, he’d have got a bad impression of fell races. 99.9% of fell-runners I’ve encountered have been supportive, friendly and great. But if he went away with the thought that such aggressive rudeness was normal, I’d be sad.

We reached a ladder stile. The lad went over first, and I stood aside and said to her, “you go on.” She glared at me and didn’t thank me. Then she went over the stile and fell flat on her face. And I managed not to laugh, but thanked the lord or lady of fell-running karma who bestowed such bounty upon me.

It took me a mile or so to run off my annoyance at her rudeness, but after that I started to love it. It was beautiful: my favourite running terrain of moorland and bogs and becks. It was a little hard to look at the scenery because I had to watch my feet, but I still loved it, as I always do. There’s something infantile about the pleasure of running through nature and obstacles. It’s joy.

There were moors, and a path leading off from a bridge – which it turns out was the Bronte bridge – to Top Withins. But we went the other way, past dozens of teenagers having a picnic who reminded me of birds nesting on rocks, peaceable, watching. On, and on, and I ran some inclines and not others. We ran past reservoirs, and rolling moorland hills, and remote farms, and I thought, what a privilege this is, and is there any better way to spend a Sunday morning. And then I started thinking, how long will it be until I can get to a Toby carvery?

I’d had a bagel at 7, and a banana at 9, but I’d calculated that it was only eight miles so I wouldn’t need a gel. This was daft, as it was eight fell miles, and I’d be on my feet for about 90 minutes. I realised this at mile 6, when my energy left me and it felt like treacle-trudging. I had a gel with me but by then I wanted to do the whole thing without, stupidly. But I was hungry, and thirsty, and the next time I’ll plan better. I knew we were getting close to the finish when more and more walkers appeared, slightly befuddled by the sight of people running towards them in not many clothes, though they were all swaddled in coats and hats. The last mile was downhill, down into the village, before a sharp right, then right again up the famous cobbled main street, to the crowd of runners outside the Fleece Inn, cheering us in, while drinking pints. I made it round in 1:27, which is OK, and ate and drank as much as possible as quickly as possible. The £8 entry fee included cups of soup, bread rolls and a pint of your choice from the bar, which I think is hugely civilized. A lovely fell-race, rude runner excepted, and I’d do it again. Next, Gisborough Moors: 12.5 miles of lots of hills. I have to qualify for the Three Peaks race with some BL races (longer than BMs), and realised with some alarm a few weeks ago that I hadn’t done any. So Gisborough is one and Trigger – a 20 mile self-navigating race across the Pennines in January – is the other. Gulp.

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