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


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.



My first ever. Entirely avoidable. And entirely my fault.

Heptonstall. I ran this last year and all I remember of it was pouring rain from start to finish. It was meant to be held last Sunday but was snowed off. I couldn’t have run it then as I was still deep in book editing. So I was delighted when it was rescheduled for this Sunday and I was even more delighted when the weather forecast promised warmth, dryness and sunshine. It delivered on all of those. For the past two nights, I’ve had Heptonstall stress dreams. I can’t remember the details, but both times I was impeded from getting to the race start. The second night, I started but ages behind and by the time I woke up had not caught up. I suppose I had reason to be nervous: I’ve only just finished an intense several weeks of 12 hour days. I have kept fit, but not kept to my 3P training plan, and not done as many long runs as I was meant to. I ran out and did ten miles as soon as I could, but even so, I know my fitness is not what it should be by now. I remembered Heptonstall was hard, principally because my Strava description of it was Oh. My. God. And I knew there were cut-offs. I checked them, and I checked last year’s time, and it seemed like I’d easily meet them. FRB advised me not to worry about them so I didn’t. I worried so little about the race that I didn’t study the route. I didn’t have time to recce, and the rescheduled race was only announced late last week, but I could have had a good look at a map. Remember this bit.

We got to Heptonstall in good time. The roads were clear, the sun was shining, and the Calder Valley looked as magnificent as ever. We parked and walked down the cobbles to the start in the pub. When I say “in good time” I mean this early.

But by the time I had got my number and my free SIS gel – “Apple? Lime and lemon? Chocolate?” – the  man at the museum who gave us tea last year would have opened up and would hopefully be providing hot tea this year too. He was. His name is Rupert and he is a very nice fellow. We went over and had tea and learned about his willow plantation and how he wants a coppice to do coppicing for basketry, and that it’s too cold in Heptonstall to stay there sometimes, and that even last week, when the snow wasn’t so deep but the drifts were mighty, people still came to the museum, and he still opened up because the council pays him for 10 hours a week and so opening the museum is, he feels, a duty. Our mates Louise and Chris from Kirkstall arrived, and eventually we all made our way back up the cobbles to change. I made the vital – and correct – decision to go vest-only. The first of the season. And I was never cold. I was many things during this race, but not cold.

Back to the pub, a quick warm-up, then words from Steve the race organizer, who told us about two, no three hazards, then described where they were using place names only locals or people who had studied the route would know. Oh well. I suppose I’d recognise a steep drop and a massive bog when I got to it.

Usually the race is started by Howard the vicar, but he must have been elsewhere in his parish so a hoot and we were off. Up the cobbles, then further up. I felt OK and then I did not feel OK. Oh dear. This may be harder than I thought. But at the point of me feeling like I would not make it to mile 2, there was a lovely descent and of course then I thought I’d easily run the 15 miles, conquer the Three Peaks and basically be invincible. Until the next uphill. After that I don’t remember much until the long stretch of moor between CP1 and CP2. It will be soggy underfoot with the snow melt, said FRB, and he was right. Ouf, it was sapping. But I plodded on, trying not to think of cut-offs, and all was well. There was a tremendous downhill on soft ground with no hidden hazards. This is the absolute best kind of descent. Halfway down there was Eileen of Woodentops which made it even better because she always greets me with an Eyup! How are you? and it is always a pleasure to see and hear her. I remember thinking just after I’d passed Eileen, as I was hurtling downhill in glorious sunshine with views that people pay to see, that it was joyous. I was full of joy. All was well.

On then, to the big bog, which I remembered as soon as I got to it, and managed to remember also what Steve had said, which was not to climb the wall, please but to pass to the far side. There were little red flags pretty frequently placed. This was useful because the race field was only 160 which meant that a) I could easily come last and b) I would probably be running in a very sparse field. For a long time I ran alongside and nearby two men, a short Clayton-le-Moors man who powered uphill impressively, and another man with whom I pendulumed. At one point, he went off a track up a hill, but there were no flags visible and it felt wrong, so having followed him, I turned back and found the right route and felt proud of myself. Remember this bit.

CP3 was manned by three very cheery Scouts. At that point, I thought of cut-offs again as I knew that the first was at CP4 and the second at CP5. The trouble is, I couldn’t remember what they were. I convinced myself that the first was 1 hour 45 minutes, and with this in my mind, I tried to get a shift on, and was so focused on a long downhill to the farm where I was convinced CP4 was, I missed the turnoff and was only turned back by a Calder Valley Mountain Rescue man yelling at me from the other side of the wall. NOOOO! BAAAAACK! Thank you, Calder Valley Off-track-Runner Rescue.

I’d run for about 1 hour 40 by then, and the CP was not at the farm so I decided he had said not 1 hour 45 but that we needed to be at CP4 by 12.45, ie a duration of 2 hours 15. But that was making my head hurt and by now I was feeling very depleted. I ran across the reservoir, one of the few parts I remembered from last year, but only because the year before, I had stood there handing out sweets to runners. At this point I definitely needed something and ingested a shed-load of sugar: two jelly-beans, then a gel, then some flat Coke. It worked and I felt a lot better. I tried to get a shift on, and remember there was a descent on a very soft path through woods, then at some point two marshals standing on a bridge. CP4 and I had made it with ten minutes to spare. Great. I headed past them, and turned left into the woods, then kept going. And I kept going. And I kept going. It began to feel wrong. Slowly, I realised I hadn’t seen a flag for a long while. I realised that there were fewer studmarks on the ground. This should never be an indication of a true path, as I learned when some friends followed studmarks up Pendle Hill and did two extra miles. I asked a few walkers, have you seen runners, and they all said yes. I asked, did they seem lost? And they said, no. So I kept going until I came to a weir and a mill-house and found the Clayton-le-Moors man standing there looking as lost as I now felt.

A slow panic. A mild dread.

I got my race map out. I decided we had gone too far along the river, but then I made a stupid error. I thought we needed to stay on this side of the river. I can’t explain why I thought that except it was a thought that had taken root in my head, based on nothing. Let’s climb up to the top and see, I said. And I believed that there had been a switchback leading up the hill we were now climbing, and that we had both missed a flag, and that we would reach the race route by walking along the ridge of the hill. That sounds easy, doesn’t it, walking along a ridge of a hill. It wasn’t easy. It was a steep scramble, then there was no path, the ground was soft, there were branches and roots and logs and a camber so severe, the sides of my feet are now bruised. But I thought this was right and I soon learned my fellow Lost-mate was as navigationally clueless as I was. Eventually, I realised I must be wrong. We should descend to the path along the river then head back to CP4 and ask for help.

We did this, but at that point being lost was giving me stress-brain that was making clarity of thought and decision-making even worse. My Lost-mate was no better, and I’m convinced that if either of us had got lost on our own, we’d have somehow figured it out. But it was a perfect storm of increasing dithering and confusion. On the river path, we headed back to where I thought CP4 was, on a bridge. We got to the bridge I thought it was, and there was no-one there. We’d probably spent 40 minutes or so trudging along the hell-ridge, and I would definitely have been towards the back end of the field, so it was entirely possible that the marshals had packed up and gone. But then I was suddenly unsure whether it was the right bridge. And the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had no clue about anything any more, an and no idea how to get out of this fix. I got out my map and this time my compass, and I figured out north and south and which direction we needed to be heading, but then I still couldn’t understand which side of the river we needed to climb up. I can’t explain that now because it’s actually very clear. But I was stressed and despondent and panicking, and I still thought we needed to be on the eastern side of the river although the map told me something different. Partly it was because from the east I could see no path along the west. I couldn’t see a way out. Finally I understood we were probably on the wrong side of the river so we crossed it and found a track heading south along the eastern side of the river. We set off, and if we had carried on running, we’d have seen a flag, because the race route passed over the track. In fact, after the bridge with the marshals, there was only 50 metres or so on that side of the river before the race route crossed over the river again over a bridge and headed up the hill. We were a couple of hundred metres away from the race route.

But this didn’t happen. We never saw the red flag because a man in a Landrover was driving down the track and we asked him for help. He was from Midgeley but was looking after the poultry for his farmer friend nearby. One has disappeared, he said. Fox. Feathers. So he didn’t know where Turn Hill was – the location of CP5 – and he didn’t know how best to get to Heptonstall. He suggested we drive down into Hebden Bridge and make our way from there, but although I could not manage to make my way from CP4 to CP5, I did know that Heptonstall is a heck of a climb above Hebden and I wasn’t planning on doing that. By now I knew my race was over. Even if we found CP5, we were way outside the cut-offs. I should have been upset, I suppose. I’d never DNF-ed before. DNF. Did. Not. Finish. But I was in such a state of bewilderment by then, I didn’t really think about it. The Landrover man suggested that he dropped us at Gibson Mill, the mill I’d seen by the weir where I’d encountered Lost-mate. There were National Trust people there, he said, and if they didn’t know the race route, they would know how to get to Heptonstall by footpath. He dropped us there, very kindly, and the National Trust man, very kindly, let me use his phone to call the marshal number on my race-map. I was anxious that we had both gone missing and that people would be waiting for us for a very long time at CP5. In his pre-race announcements, Steve had emphasized that anyone who retires must make that known to a marshal. I knew this and that this is what I should have done. But I still had no clue where CP5 was. The phone number went to the voicemail of “Derek in Informatics” which didn’t seem right. Then I remembered that I was using last year’s map and the number was probably wrong.

Lost-mate and I agreed that at this point, the best thing to do was to get back to Heptonstall as quickly as possible. The nice man from National Trust gave us clear indications: up here, footpath through the woods, a switchback, go straight over, ignore the track, look for Slack Methodist church then run along the road. But I hardly took any of that in and neither did Lost-mate. Instead we ran along the path, with legs that now felt rather battered, until I saw some buildings and something that might have been a Methodist chapel. I asked some walkers again, because I hadn’t learned my lesson, and they said, dunno. I asked another one and he said, go up this path and Heptonstall’s right there, as if we were very peculiar for not knowing that. We got up the path, found Slack, turned left along the road, then up the road to Heptonstall. A few people told us “well done” as we passed, which was odd. We weren’t on the race route. I saw my friend Ben at his car and he shouted WELL DONE ROSE and I shouted back WE GOT LOST. It was strange that the closer I got to the finish, the more upset I was getting. I felt stupid and angry with myself.

Onwards, down the cobbles, a left turn that led to a track on a wall on the other side of the race finish. FRB was there and saw me and immediately looked concerned. God knows what I looked like. Terrifying, probably. At that point all the stress of the previous hour was funnelling into a powerful need to weep in shame and frustation. This was daft. I hadn’t been injured. I’d had half a race and loved it. All I’d done was get lost, about a mile and a half from the race finish. We went inside the tent where Heptonstall’s famous flapjack is served, and I reported in to the radio operator there, who groaned and said, “YOU’RE number 4.” Then I went outside to report to the finish marshals, and I was profoundly apologetic. A very lovely woman said, no, we were just very concerned, but we knew you were probably together as you were both missing, and we’re just glad you’re not injured.

I got back to FRB and other friends, and they suggested flapjack but I didn’t have the stomach for it. By now the adrenaline of being lost and unable to understand why had changed into deep embarrassment. No matter how many people said, “it happens,” which I know is true, this was the first time it has ever happened to me. I’ve been worried many many times on races about getting lost because of where I generally am in the field, but I have only got lost twice before, one mildly and it was quickly resolved, and the second time at the British Fell Relays, which was not. This was worse though. Lots of people had got lost, my friends said, and most of them at the same point as I had. Most, though, ran on and then turned back and found the route, or got to the mill and found the track and made their way back that way.

I got changed and headed back to the pub for cold soup. If I want warm soup, I should run quicker. After the presentations I apologised to Steve, the run director, that I had caused anyone any concern. He said it was fine, and that the marshals at CP4 would usually have been standing at the bridge that led back over the river, and that’s why it wasn’t flagged. But they had chosen to stand on another bridge, and so people had missed the turning. But he said, we’re just glad you’re alright, and because of the weather we weren’t too worried.

Next time, said FRB, get into a habit of looking at your map at each checkpoint and understanding where you are. Do you do that, I said? “No. But I’m different.” This is true. He is navigationally competent. How ironic, that I was meant to do the FRA navigation course in March but had to cancel because of my book.

I’m fine now. It happens. It happened to me. And these are the reasons it happened:
1. The field was sparser than expected because it had been rescheduled
2. The marshals were on the wrong bridge
3. I had last year’s map with the wrong marshal contact on it
4. I had no phone. (This was irrelevant as there was no signal in the valley but might have come in handy when we got higher up and I could have phoned FRB to ask him to tell the race organizers we were safe. Then I would not have run for a few miles intensely worried that everyone would think we were missing or injured.)
5. My map was not detailed enough to show bridges, and because the race route had been traced in yellow, it obscured details. That’s my excuse.

These are all reasons. But it was entirely my fault that I got lost. Because:
1. I didn’t have time to recce
2. I didn’t study the route because I made assumptions that it would be flagged throughout and that I would have people to follow. I should not rely on flags, and there is no obligation on fell race organizers to flag at all. So this was foolhardy of me
3. I did not get a grip of my confusion and just got in more of a state
4. I didn’t have an OS map with better detail

I have learned my lessons. Be better prepared. Never assume a race will be flagged. Never believe walkers who tell you they have seen lots of runners (though so many apparently got lost, perhaps this was true). Always believe there is some truth to your stress dreams, even if they get wrong which part of the race you will miss.

It hasn’t been my best racing day, but of all the days to get thoroughly lost, at least I chose one with glorious weather. Heptonstall is a fantastic race and I will be back next year and I might even finish this time. Also, I never got my flapjack.


Last autumn, I marshalled at a fell race. It was a decent day. The forecast was benign: about 13-14 degrees, not too much wind, a chance of rain. But that forecast applied to Ilkley, whereas the race was on Ilkley Moor. It’s not a huge amount of difference in height, but in that the difference the weather can change. I arrived a little late for the briefing, and had to run up a hill to catch my fellow marshals, and I was sweating a lot by the time I reached them. I was warm in my hoodie. Half an hour later, at my marshalling post halfway up the moor, I had my puffer jacket on. Ten minutes later, when it started to rain — and I was still waiting for the first runners to arrive — I put my waterproof on. Then, at intervals, my hat. Finally, my mittens. At no point was I cold but at no point was I too warm.

When the runners came through, about 40 of them, they were nearly all in shortsleeves and shorts. I would have been too, had I run it. I watched them pass, felt envious of their muddy legs, then moved to my second post 50 metres down the moor, where they would come through again. I still wasn’t warm enough to take off my layers, though for a while I removed my hat. It was wuthering and blustery. And when the runners came through a second time, I paid more attention. I was looking for how many were carrying kit, and I counted a total of three. I made sure to say “well done” to every one of them, but by the time I realised how few were carrying a bum bag or jacket, I changed that to, “well done for carrying kit.” Each of the three looked a bit surprised, but I meant it.

At this point, many fell runners will scoff. We are hard as nails. It was a warm day. The race organizers had decided that kit was not required. To demand otherwise would be nannying, weak, soft.

But I saw muddied feet, torsos and a face, meaning people had stumbled. I knew that if anyone had injured themselves and not been carrying kit, that they would be cold within a minute or two. Admittedly, we were not at the top of some magnificent fell in the Lakes, where an injured runner would probably have to wait a few hours for Mountain Rescue. We were close to roads and Ilkley and I guess that is why so many people had no kit. But I still think the point remains: a fell runner should be a clairvoyant.

Clairvoyant, from the French: to see clearly. It has no meaning about seeing into the future, but a fell runner does need to see clearly into what might be the future. He or she has to see the next toe that clips a rock, or ankle that twists, or balance that fails. They have to see the stumble, the face against rock, the pain and the crippling. They have to account for it, though it may never happen. And once the ankle is twisted or broken, who will keep the runner in vest and shorts warm? My marshal instructions suggested I take a space blanket, which I might have, had I not forgotten about it. But marshals aren’t there to rescue runners. Of course I would have helped, had anything happened, and given clothing and warmth. But that wasn’t technically my responsibility. In practice, other runners would have stopped, because we are fell runners and that is what we do, and they would have offered their kit and space blankets and comfort. I have seen runners being helped plenty of times, and I have done it myself. When I used to fall a lot, my friends always helped me, offering warmth and drugs. It’s a great kindness and a testament to what kind of tribe we belong to, but it shouldn’t be relied upon. It is shocking to be injured, and it is shocking how quickly you can get cold.

The great joy of fell running is to run in the wild. No roads, no cars, no daily stress. It is a precious freedom, and I love it. It is being human amongst nature and amongst what the elements can throw at you. But it also means being aware that they can throw all sorts at you and you need to be responsible for yourself. It is not hard as nails to run with no kit, unless you are prepared to die for the sensation of not carrying a waistpack or a backpack, or get severely injured or hypothermia. It’s an insult to chance and an invite to the rock that will trip you when you least expect it.





I haven’t been racing. I have been writing. My schedule has been heavy: up very early, into my studio very early, 10-12 hour days at my desk. There has been a lot of comfort-eating. I’ve tried to keep fit, going to spin classes and doing weight-training, and running once or twice a week, usually up the road to Woodhouse Moor, around the park three times, then back. One thing, before I continue: people who run in cities, why are you so miserable? I’m used to running or walking on the hills and moors, where everyone says hello. But I could pass a fellow runner several times and get no acknowledgement. It doesn’t take much effort to make eye contact or nod. And there were never more than a dozen runners in the park at any time. Leeds city lunchtime runners, cheer up.

I hadn’t been on the fells for so long, that I planned a day out somewhere wild as my reward. Last Monday, I sent in most of my book. On Tuesday, I fiercely pottered. And on Wednesday, we went to the hills. FRB was in charge of navigation and route-planning, as usual, and he had decided on a run up to Simon’s Seat, near Bolton Abbey. The weather forecast was for light showers, which didn’t bother me: I was so desperate to get outside, I would cheerfully have run in pouring rain. Which we did, as it chucked it down from start to finish. We parked at Barden Bridge, where a Yorkshire Dales ice-cream van was, surprisingly, open for business. It was also surprising, and impressive, how many people were out for a walk. It was full waterproof weather, not light showers. But still, folk were out, though no runners. We put on waterproofs, then FRB produced two flat caps from the boot. It was the day after Yorkshire Day, and also the day of the Flat Cap Five, a lovely race in Dewsbury for which you are supposed to wear flat caps. But I had not known whether I’d be free by then so not booked, and it was sold out. This was our own Flat Cap Nine. We set off along the river. The mighty River Wharfe, which looked wilder than last time I’d seen it, when I had swum in it while running along Leeds Country Way, in the weeks of writing when I would take Sundays off (that didn’t last).


It looked fierce and much better where it was, away from me and away from the woodland path we were running through. The woods were lovely, and they kept the rain off. I was worried about the fact that I had done hardly any hill running — in fell runners’ language, this is “I’ve done no hills” — for two months. I also realised that I hadn’t taken my iron tablet for four days. But I did OK and kept going. Through the woods to the cafe, over the bridge and along to the Valley of Desolation, which doesn’t look very desolate, then onwards and upwards to open moorland. A sign told us that the moor would be closed for several days in August so that humans could come and shoot birds in the name of sport. Stupid stupid humans. And how do you close a moor? We ran on, and the weather got no better. We passed a couple of soggy walkers but otherwise it was just us and the grouse. Grouses? Grice? Another reason to be thankful I grew up speaking English and didn’t have to learn it. Occasionally I looked to the skies for better weather but there was none. A long track led upwards, and my legs stopped running.


Rocks, bogs, mud: it was atrocious weather but still brilliant. I was soaking wet but it was still brilliant. Near the top, I paused to stand on a rock and open my arms wide and laugh at the weather. It was driving rain, and wind, and I laughed at it.

FRB said the view from Simon’s Seat was usually beautiful. It wasn’t, when we got there, but it was still brilliant:


We got back, soaked, did a back-seat-car-change (the fell-runner’s changing room) and drove to Addingham. For about three miles, I’d been dreaming of eating a pie at The Crown Inn at Addingham, which has a pie and mash menu, and delicious vegetarian pies. Usually, of course, the pub would be shut and no pies would be had, but this is a good news post, and the pub was open, and I had a Heidi pie with sweet potato and goat’s cheese, and mushy peas and mash and vegetarian gravy, and it was bloody great. (Oh, and to the French mate on Instagram who said, “how can you eat such things?” my response is, because I’m not French and a food snob.)


So my hill legs were woken up, and I decided to keep them awake by doing my first fell race in two months. Round Hill fell race is run by Otley AC, and it covers nine miles from Timble village up to the summit of Round Hill, about four miles of climb. Then a lovely descent, and — in my memory — a short incline before you’re back on the forest track you started on and at the finish. My memory is rubbish. There were another five miles after that short incline. But I’m ahead of myself. We got there early and parked near the race HQ at Timble village hall. Timble is a preposterously lovely village where I’m guessing the median income is £100,000 a year. Pale stone, big houses, careful gardens, beautiful borders. We paid our £5 entry fee, and headed back to the car to get changed. Then, as other runners began to arrive, we met fellow club members and friends, and I realised: I’ve missed this. I’ve really missed this. Not just the running out on the moors and hills, and the gorse and heather and grouse and birdsong. Not just the bogs and rocks, and tired legs and gels and jelly babies. But being with like-minded folk who can also think of nothing better to do than run over a moor on a Sunday morning, and eat cake afterwards. I’d really missed that.

It was great to see four club-mates too. My club is not big on fell-running and the committed fell-runners in it are a hardy handful. But others are getting interested, we now have a fell and trail championship along with the usual club one (which is 90% road races), and so it was ace to see Chris, Louise and Yekanth, who all said they were doing their first fell race. Louise was nervous, and Yekanth told me he was going to stick closely with me, a strategy I wouldn’t necessarily endorse, as I thought I’d be the slowest of all five. They’d all done trail and cross-country races, and Chris and Louise had done the Bingley Gala 10K, which is described as a fell race but which they said was mostly trail. But they were still nervous, because “fell-racing” strikes intimidation into people. I understand that because I was exactly the same when I started. I was terrified about the prospect of having to navigate. I was scared by the concept of kit requirements. I still get very nervous at smaller races where I’m likely to be on my own near the back. But I’ve had to navigate only once in two years of doing fell races. I must be so blasé about kit requirements, this time I forgot to bring my waterproof. Luckily, it was only recommended not required. I told Louise there was no way she would get lost, that the route was taped and that, as fast as she is, she would not be on her own in the field, and that she would start running and wonder what she’d been worried about. I told her, it’s no more intimidating than a trail race.

I’d forgotten about the bogs. Round Hill can get very boggy, and it had got very boggy. Most of the route was on clear paths (by clear, I mean, they were paths, even if they were filled with rocks and gullies. I don’t mean flat shale tracks. It’s not a trail race.) But there were some narrow trods, there were some passages over moorland and there were some deep bogs. Yekanth did stick with me until I started walking up one hill, and told him to run on. He did, and I didn’t see him again until the end of the race, when he appeared to have turned into someone covered in mud from head to foot. That is not an empty description: he had mud on his nose, his forehead, everywhere. It was impressive.

I was nervous too, about my fitness and the fact I had done barely any hill climbing for two months. But FRB was surprised that I did as well as I did on our Simon’s Seat run, so maybe all the spin classes had helped. And I didn’t feel too bad on Round Hill. I even managed to overtake people on the downhill. On the same descent, there had been an altercation: I’d felt someone running very very closely behind me. He stepped on the backs of my shoes. This is not what you do. Another man running behind me told him off, and the shoe-treader protested. “Aren’t we allowed to overtake on downhills any more?” I said, “yes, of course you are, but do it properly.” By that I mean don’t barrel the person in front out of the way. Find a space, and pass. The other man was more succcint. “Stop running like a twat.”

At mile five or so, I started to feel exhausted and heavy-legged. I had the Runner’s Conundrum: run on and run through it, or lose time by stopping to have a gel and water? There was actually a third option, of giving up altogether, but that was not a possibility. I chose the gel, sensibly, because it helped. Even so, I couldn’t catch Yekanth, nor two Otley women who had overtaken me and who were in my sights, but I was running OK, and I was enjoying it. Just being outside: it helps. It helps with everything.

Louise did great, though when I saw her afterwards, she did say something about all the bogs. I felt slower than usual and thought my time would be way down on last year’s, when I had tried to overtake Andrew B. and fallen headfirst into the heather, then fallen again and opened up an injury I’d done the day before (which then got horribly infected). In fact, I was only four seconds slower than last year.

So, I’m back. Here is me a) washing my shoes and b) wondering how I’m going to do the Yorkshireman marathon in five weeks.


So. My grand plan to get fitter, faster, stronger? It’s not really working. Since I did the Three Peaks, I have hardly run. That is, I ran ten miles the week after, because I had to do a recce of the Calderdale Way Relay, which is this Sunday. FRB, who was kindly guiding me round, said — as he had already run several miles that week, unlike me — that I would be OK for six miles and then my legs would remember they had done the Three Peaks. He was right. It was at about 6.3 miles, and I suddenly deflated. I walked hills I would have run up the week before. I was exhausted. “Why are you so grumpy?” asked FRB during the last two miles, and I pointed out, later, that I was not grumpy but barely sentient from tiredness. I did a few other runs here and there, and even got a Course Record and a PR on one local hill, which was a) surprising and b) provoking FRB to say on Strava that I obviously hadn’t run hard enough at the Three Peaks then. Which I think we can both agree is true.

But what I have not done is woken up and thought, I’d really like to run today.

What I have not done is go to training.

What I have not done, much, is run.

I’m keeping fit though. It’s very strange, as I love the outdoors so much, that I have come to also love doing spin classes. A spin class has everything I should loathe: it’s indoor, it’s got loud music, it’s a bit of a cult what with all the women doing the weird call and response thing (UP 2-3-4 DOWN 2-3-4). And yes it is the women, and no, I will never be one of those women. Yet I do love it. I love the intensity of it, and the fact that I pour sweat. I like hearing AHA and Enya speeded up and wondering who provides spin class music and who invented that machine. And now I have discovered a new class which I also love, which has the horrible name of RIP30, but which is a weight training class. My strength training has gone to hell. When, years ago, I had a personal trainer, I was strong. I could do 20 press-ups, no problem. And now I weakly do 10 press-ups and feel pathetic and find myself kneeling rather than doing the full thing and wonder where my upper arm strength has disappeared to (answer: into not doing strength training). I tried to fit in one strength session a week during my Three Peaks training, but usually didn’t. Again, the class is indoor, it has absurdly loud music (and no AHA or Enya), I can’t hear a thing the instructor is saying and neither can anyone else. But I love it. I really enjoy weight training, and I love to do a dead-lift.

I understand, partly, why my running has faded. I’m working a lot, and I don’t want to break off at 5 to go to run club. And my HRT makes me extremely dopey in the mornings so I haven’t managed to run then either. Also, I don’t want to. Maybe this is just a phase, and the equivalent of marathon blues, and my running will come back. When it does, I’ll have the strongest arms in Leeds.

Thrifty foreign fitness

There is an obvious way of keeping fit on business trips, of course, which is the hotel gym, assuming you are not a cash-conscious freelance author but are instead someone with a sizeable expense account that allows for expensive hotels with good fitness centres. I don’t have an expense account. Normally I’d just work out a running route outside and set off, but I’m in a city that has gone from minus 30 degrees last week to spring weather this week, which means the pavements are covered in lethal black ice. So I’ve had to get inventive. Here are my tips.

1. Make friends

You may think people who post local routes on Strava, Mapmyrun  are your friends. But are they? You can never account for people’s taste: one person’s chosen Sunday loop may include a heavy industrial area. Sometimes the routes or loops are complicated and you’d spend most of the run looking at a map if you had one, or using fiendishly expensive data on your phone. You may feel unsafe in areas that someone who has run here for years thinks is no big deal. My tip: write to a local running group and ask if you can run with them. Runners are a friendly tribe and I’ve never been turned down: I’ve run with people in Kathmandu and Texas and almost run with people in Salt Lake City (except I didn’t have a car to get to the meeting point and it was too far to run to). A friendly Salt Lake City club runner still told me some good running routes though. Here in Canada, I approached Saskatoon Road Runners and asked to run with them and the response was, as the response often is, “sure!” In fact the club mostly organizes races, and group training runs congregate at Brainsport, a local running shop here (which, it turns, out operates a wonderful community outreach program of shoe donation as well as other community outreach stuff). Also they have a good, plain-speaking sign.

On my first full day in Saskatoon, still reeling from jetlag, I turned up at Brainsport, met a nice fellow called Harvey who said, I’m going running on river trails after work, and you’re welcome to join me. He emailed a few other people to see if they wanted to join, and he offered to lend me demo Salomon spiked shoes – essential for snow – and a headtorch. So instead of lounging on my bed at 6.30 pm feeling – rightly – that it was 2 am, I was running along beautiful snow-covered trails along the mighty South Saskatchewan river with Harvey and another young woman who had turned up at short notice to keep us company. Saskatoon is known as the city of bridges, and we ran from one to the other and back again. It was so good that on Wednesday I did it again on Brainsport’s formal group running night. There were half a dozen groups going out, and of course I picked the trail one, only this time I got lost and caused an international incident, after I stopped to take a picture, got separated from the group and took the wrong trail. I knew my way back, more or less, but they didn’t know that I did. I made it back, and so did they, and looked extremely relieved that they hadn’t lost their British guest into the South Saskatchewan River weir: sorry, folks. They were thoroughly both forgiving and welcoming and I got to experience both Canadian trails I’d never have found and Canadians that I’d never have met otherwise. Running with a running club is the perfect antidote to the hotel-meeting-lonely dinner-hotel pattern that is most business trips.

2. Research

My hotel doesn’t have a gym. But I’m training to run the Three Peaks race again, and though I’m in the prairies, I need to get some hill training somehow. Short of driving hours to the Rockies, the only solution was a treadmill that inclined. So I began to research. Saskatoon city is currently running a scheme where you can get a two week free trial membership with lots of leisure centres. I didn’t feel it was particularly ethical to do that as I was only going to be in town for a week, but I emailed the nearest gym, the YWCA, and asked about day passes. It turns out that for $10 they would let me use the gym, pool and all facilities, and it was a short-ish walk over the bridge from my hotel. When I got there, I found a gym that was far better equipped than the one I use at home, with all sorts of intriguing machines (which I ignored, once I’d found the inclining treadmill and the weights area). I could have signed up for classes for my ten bucks a day but didn’t. I did the same thing in Toronto and found that Goodlife Fitness had an offer for three free visits, but their website never worked, and by that time I had a horrible cold and gyms were far from my mind.

3. Look for trial offers

I walked past a spin studio on my way back to the hotel one day, researched it and found that they were offering one trial class. That sounded like a perfect solution (see hill training requirements above) so I duly signed up for an early evening class. Then I duly succumbed to jet lag, had a late afternoon nap that lasted longer than it should have, and missed it. But it was a great idea in principle. Maybe try Groupon or similar for other class offers. Or approach studios directly, perhaps without mentioning the fly-by-night nature of your visit (see ethical point above).

4. Walk

Saskatoon is a car town. It is built around the car and though there are buses, I decided to be one of its few committed pedestrians. As my interview appointments have been all over the city, I’ve walked several miles a day. This has seen me walking on pavements where no other human seems to have set foot since autumn. And because of the record-breaking February temperatures this week (it should be minus 10, but it’s 8C), I walked through deep puddles, slush, and, alarmingly, lots of black ice. This may be my assumption, but it seems that gritting pavements is not a priority here. A Saskatonian told me that they don’t tend to fall because they start skating from a young age and have good ankle stability. I actually think they don’t fall because in winter they always travel by car. I didn’t fall either though I had several near-misses a day. I encountered a few hazards. The first: don’t ask locals how far it is to walk. They will invariably say “20 minutes,” but they have no idea because they mostly drive around the city. It never takes only 20 minutes. Another: during a long walk back from visiting a small charity in the north of the city, I was directed to walk straight down a long, long road to the river and to cross the bridge. Easy enough, and I had a lovely walk in beautiful sunshine, past industrial zones and then residential areas, up a bank to the CPR railway bridge, which has a pedestrian walkway. Except that the walkway consists of wooden boards nailed together, and the boards have gaps in through which you can see the rushing river sixty metres below. I set off with confidence, and a couple of minutes later my fear of heights kicked in and I walked the long, long bridge whimpering and talking to myself: “Don’t look down. Look ahead. Don’t look down. Look ahead.” Lesson: I prefer solid bridges. When I told my Saskatoon friends about this, they said, “you should try being on the walkway when a train goes past. Everything shudders and sways.” And I would probably have jumped into the river. The other hazard to walking around Saskatoon in a melt is the huge puddles that form on the road side of the kerb. It is a testament to the niceness of Canadians that I wasn’t splashed once.

The result of all this? I didn’t lose as much fitness as I’d feared. I saw lots of Saskatoon that I would otherwise have not seen from a car or a bus. And I lost five pounds in weight. For not much money at all.



Getting the runs in (in) Delhi

Running overseas. I do it whenever I can, that is whenever I travel. Usually, I manage to find a local running group and run with them. Or I ask for routes from local running groups and do them myself. I have had stunning runs in Salt Lake City up stunning Utah canyons, around ring roads and paddy fields in Kathmandu, up the Hudson River pathway in New York. So when I came to Delhi, I didn’t think I would do any differently. I knew that I was coming to India in the hottest month of the year. I knew that temperatures would be at least 44 degrees C. But until I set foot outside, on my first morning here, I realised I had had no idea what that felt like. It is impossible to imagine such heat when you are not in it. I could understand it intellectually. I knew it would be hot. But god. It is so hot that Delhites are saying it’s hot. It is so hot that newspapers are running columns called Death By Breath, because the heat is making Delhi’s already awful pollution even worse.

It is the type of heat where I cannot stand for more than two minutes in sunshine. It is a heat that boils my blood, and saps my energy so that at around 5pm, if I have been working or walking, I collapse in a darkened room – in any darkened room – with a whimper. I begin to dread going outside. I calculate whether I can walk for ten minutes at 5pm or whether that’s too early. I jump from air-conditioning to air-conditioning to swimming pool.

But even so. Even so, I have to keep fit. Not only because a few days after I return, I’m due to run the Wharfedale Half, a trail half marathon with some steep climbs. I don’t think my legs remember what climbs are at this rate. But also because in a fit of enthusiasm in my first couple of days here, I signed up to run a local race in Delhi. There weren’t many to choose from: who organises races in the hottest month of the year? These guys do. It’s a festival of running, really, and you can choose to run 20, 40 or 60K and also run one day and cycle the next. I’m running the 20K race, which starts at 5am, though all runners are encouraged to be there at 4.30am to cheer on the 40K and 60K runners. The location is a reclaimed mining area south of Delhi which is now a wildlife sanctuary. It looks stunning:


It also looks like it will be hot, even at that time. I know that because I joined a few Facebook Delhi running groups, and asked about local running. Lodi Gardens, they said. Two blocks from my hotel. But go early. Finally a couple of days after I arrived, I got up at 6 and got ready. I was worried about how to dress modestly: India may have lots of young feisty middle class young women who wear what they like, but I wanted to draw as little attention as possible. So I fashioned a modesty outfit from my Inov-8 shorts and a racing skirt:


No, that is not a gas mask, though later I came to wish it had been. I set off running, carrying a backpack with two filled water bottles. By the time I’d finished, I’d drunk them all. I got to Lodi Gardens and had two surprises. 1. It is exquisite.


2. At 6am it’s like King’s Cross at rush hour.


There were loads of people, everywhere. Women in saris and trainers, striding around the jogging path. Walkers and more walkers. People doing yoga in the yoga area:


It was great to see people keeping active even in a heatwave, and impressive. (Someone told me later that 6am is too late to go running and I should have gone at 5.) But what was missing was runners. There were a few, but all male. People stared at me, but I just kept running. Well, shuffling. It was 6.30am and I was pouring sweat. When I ran around the Three Peaks I drank hardly any of my three bottles of water. By the time I’d finished running around Lodi Gardens, I’d finished both bottles. As it got later, a few more women runners appeared. I’d been told Lodi Gardens is popular with foreigners, as it’s near the embassy area, but I only saw one foreign woman running, and she’s going to have problems with her hips or ITB if she keeps running like that (flicky foot). I did have a chat with one fellow runner, as I asked him about his tattoo. He said it was from his first marathon, which had been in Slovenia, obviously. The tattoo was the race motto. I liked the image of runners, but I’m not sure I’d want random Slovenian on my arm forever more along with “Keep Exploring”.


After four miles I had had enough. I certainly didn’t feel like someone who had run 24 miles a couple of weeks earlier. Or perhaps that’s why I felt so pathetic. Since then I’ve tried to wake up early a few times to go running, or at least go to that yoga class that looks so inviting, but my sleep patterns disagree. So I’ve stuck to the treadmill, dreadful though it is, and I’m going to have to keep my hill legs in shape by running up and down the hotel staircase. The enforced interiorness may be a good thing, as I had dinner with a friend of a friend who has runner friends. They have modelled, he told me, an hour’s run in Delhi pollution and figure out that it actually cuts a year off your life. So indoors it is.


I’ve had enough of not running now. I’ve compensated with workouts and swimming, and I’ve come to love swimming, enough to get over my dislike of public pools, and to stop at a random leisure centre between one speaking engagement and another, and swim in a gloriously empty 25m pool for an hour. But still, I want to run. I really want to run.

But I had to wait. My physio still said no running, and I trust her. I also dread running and the pain coming back like it was before. I had an appointment with the Coach House Physio podiatrist so I waited for that as if it was going to be the velvet glove around a guillotine. That was on Monday. Karen, the podiatrist, comes down from Edinburgh every couple of weeks to work at Coach House. She’s soft-spoken, she inspires confidence and she carries a regular protractor. “There are fancy ones on podiatry websites,” she said, “but they only do what this does.” So armed with this:




she watched me walk, then some more. She looked pleased and said I was walking well. That is a big change. Last week, my physio Lucy, and the NHS physio I went to, both said my hip was dropping and my right leg was doing a weird rotation as I walked. But I have actually done the glute exercises I was supposed to, and apparently they work. The idea is to strengthen my pelvic region, hips and glutes, to lessen the impact on the posterior tibial tendon. I also need to relax my upper back, which has limited extension, because of my poor posture and years of sitting hunched over computers. I haven’t been doing my back exercises, but I have been swimming, which is perfect for improving arm rotation. Anyway, something is working. Karen took angles of my legs and feet, and pronounced my legs to be the same length, which they weren’t when I first went to see Lucy at Coach House, when my right leg had shortened because of all the stress on the ankle (I can’t remember the physics or physiology behind that but it made sense at the time).

But now, I am aligned. I am symmetrical. I am almost better.

My carbon fibre orthotics, the price of which made me wince as much as my ankle pain, will arrive in a few days. Yesterday I saw Lucy again, and arrived just as Jessica Ennis-Hill was leaving. I did the British thing of studiously not demonstrating that I knew who she was, which is a way of showing her that I am trying not to notice her and amounts to much the same thing as staring.

Lucy is also happy with me. She kept grinning. Everything is moving better. The nerves around my tendon are gliding better. I was still in pain when she manipulated them, but last time I was crying, and this time I just winced a lot. She told me something interesting and possibly alarming: that her mother has a ruptured posterior tibial tendon (physios call it the post tib), and her arch has disappeared for good. She said her mother is a keen cyclist, “but she’s menopausal.” Then she stopped, as if the connection between post tib rupture and the menopause was obvious. I said, “what’s that got to do with it?” and she said, in a tone of surprise, “collagen.”

This made sense. Already, as I am peri-menopausal, I notice my skin flaking and falling off once a month. Menopausal hormone changes damage collagen. Lucy said it’s really common for menopausal women to have post tib problems.

Great. So I’ve that to look forward to.

But in better news: she is so pleased with my progress, that once I have got my orthotics, and worn them in gradually and properly, over a week, I CAN RUN. Only for fifteen minutes, and then I must have a day’s rest to see how my foot reacts. But still, I can run! Already, I’d been planning my first run. I went walking with FRB around Roundhay Park on Saturday, and decided: it will be Roundhay Lake. In about a week.

Because I want to run now. I’m tired of being patient and stoic. I will not do anything daft. But I will run.

Try a little tendonitis

Injured. INJURED.

I don’t like being injured. Especially when it is a chronic injury that has become acute and probably the best I can hope for is that it just becomes chronic again. If I look back at my four years of running and all the niggles, pains and injuries, I will get despondent. If I add up how much I have spent on physios, massages, biomechanical analyses, shoes, orthotics, podiatrists: I would hang up my running shoes out to dry where they would take on a whole different purpose.

Here’s the boring bit about the injury: Last year, I got an ankle problem. It happened after I ran a Parkrun in some Brooks racing flats, having been running in cushioned shoes. I didn’t spend six months acclimatizing to minimal shoes. Heavens, no. I just ran in flats, on park paths in Leeds that have quite a severe camber, and I’ve been paying for it since. My inner ankle would start to hurt after a few miles, and the inner ankle bone would be extremely sore to touch, as if it had been hit with a hammer. It also hurt when I did squats. I went to a podiatrist who gave me orthotic inserts. I had an MRI done and a few months of physio that was good and involved needles. The soreness went away, and later my hip started to get sore instead.

Then it came back. It came back after I started fell-running. Fell-running is a wonderful activity and I love it beyond measure. But my ankle does not love it, because running up and down fells over all sorts of terrain can make your foot move in all sorts of directions. And my Inov8 shoes, while I love them, are not particularly cushioned either. The ankle problem started to show itself again, in soreness, then more soreness, then, shit: pain. So my marathon training, already stopping and starting because of travel, has now been stopping and starting because of pain. I did what I thought I was supposed to do and massaged Voltarol into it, took anti-inflammatories, iced it. Then I read this, by the doctor who came up with the concept of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Damn.

I phoned my GP. The GP practice has a new system of phone triage. You phone and ask for an appointment and a doctor phones you back to see if you actually need one, in their view. I’m guessing this works better for them, but I used to see a GP who I liked and who was kind and patient, and the three times I’ve gone through this system, I’ve got the impression that the doctor couldn’t get off the phone fast enough. Also the first one prescribed me zopiclone instead of zolpidem sleeping tablets (for flying) and they made me hallucinate Game of Thrones battlements for an hour, then have amnesia for the next hour. Luckily FRB did not run a mile, as most people would have. Anyway. The ankle. The GP looked up my MRI results and said it had shown fluid on a tendon. I said, “which tendon?” She said, “you wouldn’t know it.” I stopped myself saying, “you patronising witch, I would,” and said, “I probably will, because I’m a runner and we are geeks, so which one?” She said it was my posterior tibial, advised RICE (see above) and then said, “bye, then.” I said, “hang on. Might physio help?” “Oh. Yes.”

Most frustrating. Though not as frustrating as not doing any exercise for four days. Today I contacted a private physio practice, I ran for 6 minutes on the treadmill and my ankle didn’t scream, and I did a strength workout. My brain and soul feel better, and I’m going to try a short run tomorrow in cushioned shoes with orthotic inserts. I’m beginning to wonder if I can run the marathon with crutches.

This post was brought to you by our sponsor:


From Haiti to High Cup Nick and beyond

It’s been a while. Such a long while. This is what has happened.

1. Rombald Stride
This is a well-known and beloved race in my part of Yorkshire. It takes its name from a) Rombald Moor near Ilkley and b) because it started as a long distance walk. Now it’s mixed, so that walkers and runners set off together – though some walkers set off earlier – and all along the 22 mile route, you pass walkers. I said hello to all of them. Some of them said hello back. Anyway. I was nervous. I had no idea how I would run 22 miles. And I was scared of getting lost. You’ll be fine, said FRB, who was also doing the race. At your pace, there will be people around you. You’re unlikely to be on your own until Baildon moor. This didn’t give me much confidence though. I’m terrible at orientation and navigation. I did as he suggested and photocopied my OS map, then drew the route on it.


The official directions from the organisers are hilariously brief and enigmatic. They say things like “at Baildon Moor, turn left for five miles”. So FRB did me some very detailed ones. I packed those and the map in a transparent folder. I got my fell kit ready: waterproof trousers and jacket, with taped seams. Hat. Gloves. Spare gloves. Spare socks. Gels. Dried fruit. Chocolate. Rombald is famous for its wonderful refreshment stops along the way. I was tempted into doing it in the first place by someone saying, “You get to run along Ilkely moor munching a pork pie and drinking a cup of tea. What’s better than that?” It sounded great, even if I can’t drink while running and I’m vegetarian. But I knew there would be hot and cold drinks, and cake.

The race start was from Guiseley. Registration was in a local school, where I tried to calm my nerves by looking at the wall displays. This pleased me a lot:


But it didn’t calm my nerves. I just swallowed them and headed out of the door when everyone else started walking through it. A mixture of runners and walkers – shoes and boots – crossed the road near the McDonalds and headed down a ginnel – though it may have been a snicket – to gather in a huddle, mass and gathering. I remember that a young woman, neither runner nor walker, was trying to walk in the other direction. She can’t have made much progress against a few hundred runners in a narrow ginnel, because someone shouted, “let her through, she’s late for work!” and with laughter, we made a space, and she made it. She looked a bit befuddled.

I chat to people at the start, and it was a treat to chat to walkers for a change, although the few that I did talk to were all of the same mind: You’re RUNNING this? You’re MAD. And then, we were off. The weather was clear, the visibility was good. I began with no hat, and never needed one. The gloves came off quite soon. I’d listened to FRB and put on capris and knee compression socks, rather than my usual race gear of shorts and socks (and of course was niggled when he turned out to be wearing shorts). To such stupid inconsequential things do minds that are running turn, because they are trying not to think of things like : I’VE RUN HALF A MILE AND THERE ARE TWENTY-ONE MORE TO GO.



We left Guiseley and ran through Esholt and up to Baildon Moor, and there were always people around me, and I didn’t get lost. Up and up to a trig point, then the Twelve Apostles, then miles of flags across the moor. It was beautiful.



There were regular stalls with drinks, or drinks and cake, staffed by lovely volunteers. I took a fig roll at one of them. “A fig roll?” said the young woman serving them. “Not a Jaffa Cake??? You’re mad!” The first drinks were cold, but after that there was tea, although I took none. From Baildon to Ilkley, past the Sunday walkers who were tiptoeing on the icy footpaths and looked at us running on them with amazement and awe (or bafflement and pity). By now the rest of the field had thinned out. I was desperate for the toilet but an exposed moor doesn’t offer much shelter, and I wasn’t desperate enough to squat publicly, though that would probably come. I walked some of the climbs, but mostly I kept moving, through black bog and heather and ice and flags and moor and paths. Then we dropped down into Burley, to the best equipped food stall of all. “We’ve got pork chops!” they said. And, when I said I was vegetarian, “There’s nut-roast in the van!” If only I could eat while running, I’d have had some. But I had flapjack and cake. And probably another fig-roll.


Burley to Menston would be urban and peri-urban. But I’d recced this part and actually remembered it, except for one moment in a farmer’s field in Burley where suddenly nothing looked familiar. I waited for runners to appear over the near horizon, and asked them the way, and they told me in detail and with kindness so off I ran. My legs were OK, though my socks were rubbing, but I’d been putting off changing them for miles. I sat down in a ginnel in Menston though to sort them out, and every runner asked if I needed help. Runners are kind people.

Through Menston, through fields, over stile after stile. Some beautiful, lovely, delightful person had rigged up this licorice allsorts staging post, and I will be forever thankful.


Then there was a dash long dash down, down and down to the bottom of the Chevin. And I was running down, and down, and I knew that I would soon be going up, and up. I knew the Chevin. I know it is STEEP. I’ve walked it and run through it, and I’d recced it with FRB. I’d been dreading the climb, but actually I enjoyed the walk. It was hard, and it was steep, but I chatted to another runner on the way and it began to feel like a nice 20 minutes of not running. And then, to the top, and I knew there were less than two miles left. I looked at my watch and it was about 20 past 4. I thought, I’m going to do this in less than 4 hours 30, dammit, and I belted down into Guiseley, down residential streets, through the centre, over the roundabout, back to the school, into the back entrance, where I stupidly sat down on a chair for two minutes before going in to report back. I ran nearly 22 miles in 4 hours 30 minutes, and they gave me a key-ring.



2. Haiti
Ten days later, I flew to Haiti. I was going to report on cholera, and I was going to be based in Port au Prince. I’d organised a guesthouse, a driver and translator, and set up all my meetings. But what I hadn’t managed to organise was a running guide. I try to connect with local runners wherever I go, but Haiti defeated me. It was so hot. The streets were bad and dreadful, as was the traffic. And I never saw any runners, ever. I didn’t even see this guy. I’d been told by my hosts that it wasn’t safe to walk on the streets, and certainly not at night, so I was over-cautious. By the end of my ten days, I’d happily have rewound and gone running, even at 5am. That would have been easy, what with my jetlag and the loud dogs and cockrels that blasted out their morning crows and barks right outside my window. I eventually made contact with Run Haiti, a new organisation that is trying to get Haitians to run. The director had not only read The Big Necessity, but had also run a cholera treatment clinic. Even so, we couldn’t manage to meet. So no running in Haiti, and instead I did endless 7 minute workouts in my bedroom. I had a fascinating time and met wonderful people.


By the end of ten days, my press-ups were pretty good, I never wanted to see another fried plantain again and I dreamed of green salad.

3. High Cup Nick
I got back from Haiti on Friday morning. I’d had nearly 18 hours of travel, no sleep on the overnight plane from JFK, and stayed awake all day. I slept like the dead on Friday night, then got up on Saturday morning to be driven to Cumbria to run up this:

4-highcupnick-30819j©Visit Cumbria

Yes, at this point I did question my sanity. High Cup Nick is known as one of the iconic fell races. It’s small (the race, not the fell), and based in the lovely village of Dufton.


This was my fourth fell race and I wasn’t getting any less nervous. I did the usual race preparation: Go to the toilet. Get my number. Pin my number. Change into my fell-shoes and compression socks. Strip off all layers. Make sure I had full kit (FRA rules: full waterproofs with taped seams, map, compass, whistle). Go to the toilet again. And again. And again.

We gathered on the village green, and off we went. A steady incline for the first mile or so, and after that I can’t remember much until we got to the valley bottom – black bogs – leading up to the climb up High Cup Nick. I remember passing a woman and telling her I was jet-lagged and she said, “you’re mad!” It seems to be a theme. Then, the climb. It was like the ages of man backwards: upright first, then to a crawl as we got near the top, where the waterfall was spraying uphill. Really. The clag had come down and the temperature dropped, so I put on my waterproof. By the top, I was trying not to look down, as the footholds weren’t huge and my head for heights is not great. But staring straight ahead meant staring at the backside of a man wearing rather short shorts. So the safest thing to do was watch my feet and not look beyond my next handhold. I did stop at one point to gawp though. And my goodness, it was stunning. A silver river snaking through the valley for so far, it disappeared into the horizon. I always try to stop and gawp, though I don’t think I’ll ever do what a runner near me was doing, which was climbing with two feet and one hand, because the other one was holding his phone, to video his ascent.

At the top, I ran with Jenny of Pudsey Pacers. There was a nice ridge run for a mile or so, then a pelt down a farmyard track. I’d knocked my watch putting my waterproof on, so I had no idea how much distance was left. Running at 7 minute mile pace down the track was a bit reckless, in retrospect, as there were a couple of miles to go. But it was fun. So on, and on, until we got to a house, and a yard, and then there was the blessed village green, and a village hall full of delightful women dispensing hot soup and bread. By heck, I love fell-racing. So I did some more.

4.Brussels & Pendle

But first, I went to Brussels, for a shipping conference. It was fly-by-night, and I meant to go running, but instead worked on my speech. Back home, and a ten mile run with FRB on the streets of north Leeds. He asked me what pace I wanted to do but I’ve discarded my plan so thoroughly I no longer knew, so I settled on no slower than 9.30 and no faster than 8.30. We did the ten miles at 8.45, and it felt fast, and I was exhausted. The next day my calves were extremely sore, so I foam rollered and ibuprofen-gelled, and the following day got back in a car to drive to Barley to run up and around Pendle Hill. I’d watched FRB do the Tour of Pendle, a 17 mile fell race, last year, and promised I would do it too. This was the warm-up. The Stan Bradshaw Pendle Round, a 9 mile run with nearly 2,000 feet of ascent. It was beautiful, and hard. I was limping before I started, and when I did start running, I realised how tired I was. I came the farthest back I’ve ever come in a race, 165th out of 176. I spent a lot of it looking round making sure I wasn’t last, and seeing that there were only about a dozen runners behind me. I wasn’t last, and I got round, and I’m proud of that though a wee bit mortified about how slow I was. But some days there’s just nothing in the tank, and this was one of them. I thought I might DNF (Did Not Finish) but I didn’t, and so well done me.



And on Sunday, I rested.