Tour of Pendle 2016

The hill is made from Millstone Grit. It is a magnificent sight, looming over the horizon as you drive over from Yorkshire, or up to Cumbria. It seems to fill your eyes, its long flat shape as striking as its height. It is especially striking when you know you are going to have to run up and down its height several times over several hours.

Tour of Pendle. We had been well acquainted for a while. In 2014, I stood in freezing cold weather at the bottom of Geronimo, a fearsomely steep descent off Spence Moor, and waited to hand FRB his lucky egg. Really. He had wanted me to carry a hard-boiled egg in case he felt, after sliding and careering off Geronimo, that an egg is what would get him up the next climb. We had only just started going out, and we weren’t “out,” so his two club-mates, who were also there supporting, managed to politely suppress their surprise when I said I was there to support FRB, and again when I produced the egg. I watched the runners come careering down Geronimo. Some ran, some fell, some slid. One slid and slid and hit rocks, so he ran the rest of the race with a sore backside, I presume, and a large hole in his shorts. After FRB had passed – and refused his egg – I took myself and the egg up over the top of the hill to meet him at the top of the last climb, the wonderfully and accurately named Big End. The clag had dropped over Pendle Hill, as it often does, and I walked up and over the moor in deep fog. It was unearthly and spooky, not because of Pendle Witches (I think there are scarier things in history than women who villagers decide are a threat and persecute for no good reason) but because of the dense eerie quiet that fog produces. I didn’t really know where I was going, beyond a vague direction, so I sat down on some bracken and checked my map. I could see nothing, but faintly, then, I heard some voices. I walked towards the sound to find FRB’s clubmates Sharon and Steve, and walked with them the rest of the way to the top of the Big End, where we shivered until FRB appeared, looking exhausted and asking for his mammy (he was only partly joking). He refused his egg again. It ended up in a bin in Barley village.

It was an odd and surreal experience, and it made me want to run Tour of Pendle, so I entered last year but couldn’t run. This year, I could. I’d missed a couple of weeks of training after the Yorkshire marathon because of depression and then a horrible cold. After that I’d stuck to my training plan, but I still didn’t feel trim or fit. FRB had taken me on a recce of 5 of the checkpoints, which was supposed to make me understand where I needed to navigate, but because we didn’t do them in order, it had the result of confusing me further. The day before the race was my birthday, and I spent a lovely day having posh lunch with my mother, then a matinee and pizza with FRB. I may have had some prosecco then some wine then a bit more wine, so it wasn’t ideal race preparation, and perhaps that’s why on the morning of the race, I was in a state. I haven’t been in that much of a state since the Three Peaks, and I think perhaps that was due to a comment that FRB had made, quite lightly, a few months earlier: that he thought Tour of Pendle was harder than the Three Peaks.


This swirled around my head constantly, along with the fact that where I would be in the field, I may have to navigate. With a map! And a compass! Neither of which I am particularly good at using. (Yes, I will get better.) FRB had given me a map where he had carefully added bearings at important junctions, as well as other features that weren’t on the OS map: SW for solid wall, BW for broken wall, FP for footpath, PoS for Pile of Stones. But I knew there were some points where I would probably have to take a bearing, and I couldn’t rely on good visibility. All this wracked my nerves.

I’d packed my race kit the day before my birthday. How’s that for being prepared? Early on Saturday morning, I was ready and on time to pick up FRB. (Punctuality from me used to be unusual but FRB has finally trained out most of my chaos on race days. Now, I make lists.) He’d asked me what time I wanted to arrive at race HQ, also known as the village hall in Barley, and I’d said 9am, as that would give me a good 90 minutes to freak out, as well as make the half dozen toilet trips that I would “need”. We got there on time, parked near enough to the village hall that we wouldn’t have a half mile walk after the race (note that point: it will be relevant later), and went to get coffee and eat Soreen (in my case) or a cheese scone (FRB) in the canteen area, where a village hall volunteer was frantically laying cardboard to counteract muddy fell shoes. She said that they usually have to spend several hundred pounds to clean the carpet, so the cardboard was worth it.

Weather. We had been checking Mountain Forecast all week. I like Mountain Forecast. It gives you a choice of elevations, and it has most hills you’d care to run up. At the height of 558m, Pendle’s weather had been predicted to consist of light snow showers, a wind chill of minus 6 but nothing worse. There was rain forecast for the day before, so it would be boggy underneath. But visibility was predicted to be good, which soothed my terror a bit.

We went back to the car to get changed. I decided on a Helly long-sleeve thermal under my vest, shorts, my rainbow socks, and – no decision necessary – Mudclaws. My Just-in-Case equipment included full kit, of course: full body waterproof, hat, gloves, map, compass and whistle, as well as an extra long-sleeved t-shirt, an extra pair of mittens, a foil blanket and enough food to run three Tours of Pendle. I had marzipan balls stuffed with coconut and nuts, Soreen balls, half a cheese scone that FRB had given me, two small Mars bars, plus two small bottles of electrolytes, a bottle of flat Coke, and 1 litre of water in my bladder. I thought that made me ready for most things. Even to run 16.5 miles and climb 5000+ feet, and do six climbs and descents of this:


The field of runners was a sea of beards and buffs. And some women. We were counted through a gate, and then we were off, in a low-key, “oh the person in front of me is running so I’d better run too” kind of way. I knew that there was a mile of climb up a track until Pendle Hill, and I concentrated on running steadily. The weather was OK: it was cold but not bitter, and it wasn’t snowing. Yet.

Then we got to the hill. It was covered with deep snow, and I realised that this would be to my advantage, because after 300 or so runners had gone before me, a clear path had been tramped through the snow. Little Red Riding Hood had breadcrumbs; I had a slushy brown channel. Navigation might not be as big of an issue as I thought. There were lots of runners around me as we all climbed. I stopped running pretty soon, because I knew I needed to conserve energy, particularly in snow. As we got higher up, the weather came. Light snow showers my foot: they were not light, and they were sideways. I stopped to put my waterproof on, and it never came off again.

The first couple of miles passed quite quickly, as I was busy thinking one thing: what about the dibbers? FRB had told me that at one Tour of Pendle they’d been given a ring of bread tags (the plastic tags that tie the plastic bags around loafs). At each checkpoint you hand in a tag. Low-fi, and functional. As soon as I set off, I thought: dibbers. Had I missed the dibber handing-out when we picked up our numbers? Was it in the corner behind the group of runners and I’d not noticed it? I checked out everyone who ran past me: did they have anything that looked like a ring of plastic bread tags? I couldn’t see anything and I was too stubborn to ask: I thought it was better to get to CP1 and if they disqualified me then, at least I’d have had a few miles out on Pendle. At one point, I told myself that I could hand them a jelly-bean at each checkpoint. I fabricated all these scenarios in my head, in great detail, including with what words I would plead for a jelly-bean substitution, and they got me to CP1, which was a man standing at a field gate or maybe a wall, who simply clicked his clicker and let us go. No dibbers required. I kept my jelly-beans.

The path to CP2 was over the moor. The snow intensified. I don’t know if it was stinging snow or actual hail, but it began to bite. At one point I put my hand up to the side of my head and realised my buff had a coating of ice. I was still warm otherwise though, and in good spirits, not least when a man at CP2 handed me a green jelly baby. Tour of Pendle has a cut-off: you have to get to CP2 in two hours. It’s very generous, and far more generous than Three Peaks cut-offs, which – although I know why they exist – I suspect are unfairly tight for women. To be discussed. I got to CP2 in 1:15, and realised I’d been so busy concentrating on getting there in time that I’d forgotten to start fuelling. The route after CP2 turned out of the weather and there was some respite, so I took a gel, drank something and set off up to Spence Moor. A young woman in front of me intrigued me. I admire anyone who takes on a race like Tour of Pendle, no matter what they’re wearing, but she was wearing what looked like a walking jacket and had a huge rucksack on her back. Huge, that is, compared to what most people were carrying, which was waist packs or at the most 30L backpacks. I ran behind her for a while and watched her bag shifting hugely from side to side and wondered how she tolerated it. But she did, and she got round so good for her.

Up to Spence Moor. The field was spacing out now and I could only see one woman ahead of me, but when I got to Geronimo, there were more people around. Geronimo. My god. It looked like the side of the Eiger. I was planning to slide down some of it but I knew there were rocks, and I treasured my shorts too much. I said this to a woman running near me and she said, “I don’t care about shorts: I’d be more worried about my skin.” Good point. No sliding. It was slow going, and treacherous, and I was glad when it was over. Here is an example of one Geronimo descending technique:


Image: Phil Dornan
Note: I didn’t take a camera and it was too cold to take out my iPhone, and no-one photographed me running beyond the first half mile so I’ve borrowed all these images from the FRA Facebook page. If anyone objects, let me know and I’ll take them down. 

And here is what Geronimo looked like afterwards:


Image: Matthew Warters

Two climbs done, four to go.

The run to CP5 is a blur. I know it was on a footpath, I know I was behind a slower runner but not bothered about overtaking him. I think I did eventually and he said, “well done,” because fell runners at my position in the pack are nice and encouraging. (I can’t speak for the fast ones.) My feet were cold by now after the snow of Geronimo, and I just wanted them to warm up. I’ve got no memory of CP5, but I do remember CP6, because it was at the top of the next big climb. I ate half a mars bar, and started marching (trudging) up. A man was descending, and chatting to all the climbers. He said something like, “nice day for it,” to a man in front of me, and he responded. “Aye. Better than shopping.” Which even though my feet were extremely cold and I had three more climbs to come I couldn’t argue with.

CP6 done. CP7 was down at the bottom of the hill, which of course you had to climb again. That one, I did slide, and though my backside froze, it was worth it. It also got me some places. I paid for it by having my feet replaced with blocks of ice. Tour of Pendle veterans all talk about The Big End with awe. It’s the last climb, and it is hard, but the penultimate one is harder. But I didn’t know that, which was an advantage. I have a technique now for climbing hills and running intervals: I count. I got up Whernside by counting up to 50 then resting. This time, I just kept going, without looking up. Never look up.

Up to the top of the hill, and then a long run before the descent down to CP9 and the Big End. And the weather turned for the worse. There was a blizzard, and a white-out. It was snowing so hard that the clear path though the snow that I’d been following all the way round disappeared. The field had spread out now, and I’d overtaken a woman who had started walking, because I was so cold, I had to keep moving. It was daft of me to rely on other people to show me the way, but I did, and now I could only follow a runner up ahead who kept disappearing into the blizzard and clag. Visibility was challenging:


Image: Nigel Hodson

I didn’t get lost. More white-out, more blizzard, and then suddenly through the snow, a stone cairn, and a British flag! I honestly nearly cried. I think it was the result of battling through such weather, and then seeing something familiar and warm.Thank you, Rob Januszewski, who apparently mans CP8 year in, year out.

There was more bum-sliding down to CP9, where apparently there was a food station that I missed (though it may have been cleaned out by the time I got there). I remember the cow bells though. What thoroughly heroic marshals. I asked most of them if they were warm enough, though I’m not sure what I’d have done if they’d said “no:” dug out the t-shirt in my bag? Offered them a warming tot of electrolytes? But they all smiled and said they were fine.

I didn’t mind the Big End in the end (how many ends can I get?) because it was the last one, and it was nearly over. I just did my counting and kept moving and didn’t look up. I was following closely behind a woman who kept slipping and swearing. At one point she belched, and I said, with sympathy, “gels can be hard to digest, can’t they?” She said, “it’s not the gels. It’s the beer I had last night.” It had to end eventually, though I couldn’t quite believe it when it did. At the top, there was a stone stile to cross, and this was awful. FRB had given me instructions: small steps. Mince your way up. Try to avoid lifting your legs high. He said this was the best way to avoid cramp, and he was right, because I minced and minced, and I didn’t get cramp. But the stone stile nearly got me, and the stones were covered with sheet ice, which was perilous for the combination of exhausted legs and Mudclaws.


Image: Jamie McIlvenny. Caption: I’m just going outside. I may be some time. 

Homeward. Another run across the moor. I was running by now with Lucy (the beer belcher) and Kirsty. They looked at my shorts and said, “aren’t you cold? we’re in thermals.” I think I was past feeling much by that point. And by now my internal monologue consisted of “GET ME OFF THIS F********* HILL”. I had had enough. We ran together, down to CP11 (which had previously been CP4), then along the track, and – bliss – shelter from the weather. Lucy turned to me at one kissing gate and asked me my name, and I asked hers, then we ran together all the way to the finish, past the reservoir, down into Barley. I have never been so pleased to see a building. Civilization. Something that meant that I was no longer going to battered by snow on a bleak open moor.

4 hours, 42 minutes.

FRB was waiting at the finish, and – after high-fiving Lucy and thanking her for her company (and if I didn’t, thanks Lucy, it was a real comfort) – I fell into him and said “hold me.” He did, but then quick-marched me to the car because he knew I had to get changed quickly. I did, but it was difficult, because I realised that though I’d drunk flat coke, I hadn’t taken any electrolytes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. So I’d run for hours and taken on no salt. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I paid for it. As soon as I tried to take my socks off, my inner thighs cramped and it was agony. I yelled and yelled. The only saving grace was that it had happened in the car so I didn’t scare passing children, and that I wasn’t trying to get up a hill at the time. FRB took my socks off for me – THANK YOU – and eventually I got changed. He said that when he’d finished, he’d seen runners at their car boots – the car boot is the Fell Runners Dressing Station – attempting to untie their laces but shivering too much to do so. Oh dear, I said, with sympathy, thinking I’d escaped that. Then I got into the village hall and tried to eat soup and started to shake uncontrollably. When I was moving, my body temperature had obviously stayed at just the right height to keep everything but my extremities warm. When I stopped, and even though I was in dry clothes, it dropped. I didn’t warm up or stop shivering for about an hour. Shoelaces? No chance. I only just managed the soup.

They were the hardest conditions I’ve ever raced in. I came 312th out of 330. Nineteen people retired, and I’d guess that up to 100 hadn’t started in the first place. There are no images of me running it beyond the first half mile, so it will live on in my head without documentation. I won’t forget it. And I’m proud of myself. And of FRB, who ran it in 3:48 which, in the conditions, was brilliant (someone said the conditions added 20 minutes at least to your time).

The race is organised by Kieran Carr, and here is his race report. He writes that he has never experienced snow on race day in all the years he’s been doing it, thanks the heroic marshals, and finishes with this: “Next year’s race is on the 18 November 2017, let’s hope we get a better day. The Village Hall is booked.” Prepare the cardboard: I’ll be back.

15078628_10154877140454994_3641639721588833405_nImage: FRB


A run

I spend many weekends racing. I spend a lot of time preparing my race kit the night before (if it’s a fell race) or at least getting my Kirkstall vest out of the laundry basket where it probably is, and deciding which shoes to wear, and packing a spare t-shirt, pants and wet-wipes for dry showering at the back of the car afterwards. But sometimes, I just don’t want to. And that’s fine too.

Last week I did the Shepherd’s Skyline with FRB, over in Hebden Bridge. You run up to Stoodley Pike, a sharp downhill and then up again. It was bitterly cold, so that I even had to wear a double layer. Still shorts though. None of this long tights stuff. Before the race, my mate Andrew B said, “I like this race, it’s one of the few where you can take in the scenery.”

As soon as we set off I realised this was nuts. The first mile or so was like the Abbey Dash (which I’d been due to run the next day, but didn’t): not much room, single file, a mass of runners. It was a mass of runners heading uphill in beautiful moorland, not down Kirkstall Road, but that made no odds. Traffic jams are traffic jams. That was frustrating, but I assumed that the field would spread out as usual. It took a while, but eventually it did, and so I assumed, again, that I’d be able to take in the beautiful scenery that Andrew had promised.

No. Not a chance. I’ve not done a race as technical as Shepherd’s Skyline for a long time. For non-fell runners, this means tricky, testing, thorny, precarious, quirky, knotty and all other synonyms for tricky. It means paths that are narrow and sometimes gullies, and that contain large rocks and stones, and puddles and mud. Sometimes there is bracken, sometimes grass, sometimes a wee bog. “Technical” means you can never take your eyes off your feet for more than a foot ahead, to see where your feet should go next. This face of mine: this is my “this is very very technical” face:

14962676_10210420048238249_2371311294633435632_nAnd I think this was one of the less technical bits.

I’d been meaning to keep an eye on Andrew B. This isn’t difficult, as he’s about 6 foot 5 and wears a bright yellow vest. I wanted to beat him, because he’d beaten me at a fell race earlier in the year, and not only that, but I’d gone for a burton (Yorkshire translation: fallen head-first) in the tussocks when I’d foolishly tried to overtake him on a descent. He’s not confident about descending, and I knew that. But the tussocks got me. Anyway Andrew B had disappeared in the traffic jam at the beginning so I forgot about him and just ran as best I could. I’d met a couple of women wearing Liverpool blue and white striped hooped vests (despite most of the English-speaking population referring to vests with horizontal differently coloured lines as “striped,” FRB insists on “hooped” and damn it, he’s right). They’d come over from Liverpool with two other club-mates. I don’t remember asking if they’d done fell races before, but I did say something about there not being many fells in Liverpool. I pendulumed with them a few times (they overtake me, I overtake them etc), and then we got to Stoodley Pike where, amazingly, I could look up and see the view and then it was helter-skelter down to a lane. It’s a wonderful descent and I loved it. One of the Liverpool lasses was running in front, but I overtook her and said something inane about there being not many fells to practice on in Liverpool. I admit, my fell-running conversation is not sophisticated.

She said, “No, we just run around Brookside Close.”

And that had me laughing all the way down the hill. Here she is: Hayley from Liverpool, and it turns out this was her first fell race.


I slogged back up the hill, then felt like the insides of my legs had been scooped out and replaced with Playdough, but I carried on along the top, past Dave Woodhead from Woodentops and his usual encouraging “go faster, Rosie” or something similar. Dave is very useful for making your walking legs speed up to a slow shuffle, no matter how much Playdough they consist of. In the last mile, I finally saw Andrew B and his yellow vest. Target. I caught him up, he speeded up, I caught him up again and on the final descent to the finish, I overtook him. That was probably daft, as the tricky terrain didn’t let up until the last few metres, so I was pelting down a perilously ankle-turning series of rocks and boulders and gullies. Later, FRB said he was standing with his club mates, and they saw Andrew B and they saw me, a little spot of purple up on the hill doing her best to overtake a grown man. I did it, and I didn’t fall over.

But I didn’t mean to write about that race. I wanted to write about this weekend, when for some reason, although there was my beloved Burley Moor fell race on Saturday, and a fixture of my beloved Yorkshire veterans series at Spenborough on Sunday, I did neither. Instead, FRB and I did an extraordinary thing. We just went for a run. Of course there were hills to be climbed: it’s Tour of Pendle in a week, and there are always hills to be climbed. So we went to Otley Chevin, a beautiful forest park with a monster hill that features at the end of the 22-mile Rombald’s Stride. As usual I followed FRB’s coaching advice: he was going to run up and down the Chevin’s monster hill three times, so so was I. (By “run up” I mean, run 10% of it, briskly walk 70% of it, stagger up the rest.) After that, we would do our own thing. And it was brilliant. Not necessarily to do our own thing, but to have no prescription, to run along any path and if I saw a trod leading into the woods, to follow it, or if I wanted to turn around and back up the hill I’d just run down, to do that (OK, I did that only once). The Chevin was busy; it was a lovely Sunday, and I lost count of the number of dogs and toddlers being walked. The dogs mostly ignored me; the toddlers all stared at me as I ran past, as if I were a bright green mastodon, as if I were the strangest thing they’d ever seen.

Along the way I stopped to look at things, to read information about the woods, to read bench inscriptions, because I always like to read bench inscriptions. I found a good one:


Love you always rat.

I ended up running 1.5 miles less than FRB, probably because of all my pootling and peering. But I loved it. I loved not racing. It’s not often I finish a run and say, “I really enjoyed that.” Particularly one that included 1500 feet of climb. But I did, because I was just running. Not racing, not puffing, not chasing Andrew B. Just running through a beautiful forest on a beautiful autumn day. I prescribe it as a vital brain protection device. You don’t have to run, but get outside when you can, and switch off social media and the awful, horrible news, and smile at baffled children, and jump over dogs. It helps.

Yorkshire marathon #3

Marathon number 5, Yorkshire marathon number 3. Done. It was not a certainty. You know me: before every big race I’m convinced I can’t run, haven’t done enough training, am too fat. I’m definitely overweight at the moment, as my poor chafed thighs keep reminding me, but it seems I can run and have done enough training.

I didn’t feel too stressed about Yorkshire but my brain told me different, concocting some interesting stress dreams where I could never find my running shoes, and had to watch the marathon set off without me. The best was the one where I had to tie my running shoes with sewing thread. Perhaps my awake calmness was simply denial. I remember standing in the shower on marathon morning and thinking, I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to run 26.2 miles. And also, I didn’t really want to. I felt like I couldn’t be bothered.

But I did bother, and I am glad I did. FRB arrived early, I was mostly ready, and we set off to York, along an A64 busy with what we assumed was marathon traffic. To the university, then to the VIP parking, as the marathon organisers Run for All had kindly given me another VIP place. FRB had one too as he was going to be writing something as well. Back, then, to the Van Brugh building and the VIP room with its pastries and coffee. We sat on a table with a woman from another Leeds running club who was not feeling too serene. I’m being polite: she seemed terrified. She’d run-walked London but this was her first running marathon, and she’d had a few years of injury. I tried to calm her by saying there was no point trying to calm down because she would be terrified right up to the start, and as soon as she started running, she’d be fine. I next saw her storming past me on one of the switchbacks, and thought, she looks alright.

We set off to the start at 9 for a 9.30 race start. No way was I going to start ahead of the Kenyans again this year. There was no chance of that as there were no Kenyans anyway, but once we got to zone 1, I sidled back to the back end of zone 2 where I belong. It was cool and perhaps even chilly, but that was perfect. The forecast was 13 degrees with some sun but not too much and that was also perfect. A warm-up, and off we went. And then I realised that I hadn’t expended all the liquid I should have done and spent a very uncomfortable first mile with my leaky bladder, until I got to the first set of portaloos. Until you have peed into your socks, you won’t understand what a real leaky bladder is. I wasn’t the only one, though, and had to wait five minutes in a queue. At this point, I had to realise that although I’d said to myself and to FRB that I wasn’t going for a PB, in my head I was. That is daft: I’d run a six hour race a month earlier, my regular running pace is about a minute slower these days than last year. Running 8.30 minute miles for 26.2 miles, which was what I would have to do to beat 3:58, was not going to happen. I hoped I’d be able to stick to 9.15 or so and perhaps get in under 4.15. Those five minutes in a toilet queue made that unlikely, though they did eject me back into the race at about the right place in the field.

The first couple of miles of the marathon are wonderful in two ways: there’s a downhill, and there is York Minster. As has happened each year, the Minster was pealing its bells, whether for Sunday service or for us. I choose to think it was for us. The sun was shining, there were cheerful crowds on the streets, and the bells were ringing. It was a moment of pure joy.



After that, I broke the run up into chunks, trying to come up with something to look forward to in each chunk, such as the vicar in Stockon-on-the-forest with his striped scarf, high-fiving hand and “God bless you, good running.” He must say that, and high-five people, about three thousand times. God bless him. I couldn’t remember how far Stockton was, but I just kept heading for it (it’s at mile 6). After the first few miles, the long quiet stretches began. Long long roads and lanes bordered by fields; not many supporters, no villages. These can be difficult, unless you can daydream. I can’t remember what I thought about only that I remember thinking, I must remember this. It probably included:

  • How on earth is that woman even running when her legs are kicking out at 90 degree angles in opposite directions? And faster than me?
  • Why do people buy Karrimor running kit when it’s shit and baggy?
  • Good form.
  • Get a better sports bra.
  • Stop heavy breathing behind me.
  • Oh god, stop hacking up phlegm and spitting.

There are lots of reasons to speed up but a spitter in your wake is a major one. Mind you, they probably thought the same about my snot-rocketing. This is a fell running technique which involves holding one nostril and power-emptying the other. It’s not very pleasant but it’s essential on cold hillsides. I’m not sure it’s acceptable during a genteel road race but I did it anyway and without warning either. I did look behind me first. I’m not a philistine.

At York Minster, I’d said to a woman next me, “this is my favourite bit.” She said, “The finish is my favourite bit.” She had blonde plaits – which seem to be the default running hairstyle for women with long hair – and bright pink socks, and turned out to be my accidental pacer for the first ten miles. It’s risky choosing an informal pacer, as you have no idea what they are aiming for, nor whether they are consistent. But she seemed very consistent, so I kept her in sight until I overtook her and didn’t see her again. After her, I chose a Vegan Runner with bright green socks, but at mile 17 she started walking too.

I felt good. I had eaten enough – though my stomach was rumbling after the first few miles – and I felt properly hydrated and nourished. It’s been so long since I’ve done a long road race that I wasn’t sure what to carry. There were enough water stations (every 3 miles) that I didn’t need a bladder, but I did need gels and chafing cream, especially as it turns out I’d left my favourite Inov-8 shorts, which are long enough to stop chafing, in France. So I decided to do several stupid things: I ran in Brooks Glycerin 7s, which I’d hardly done any training in, but my feet get so battered in PureFlow, I wanted more cushioning. This worked out partly alright: my feet were cushioned. But both were blistered and my feet still felt battered. It’s not down to the shoe though: I realise I grip my toes when I run, which is daft and painful. Back to the running form doctor.

I’d said to FRB that my current steady pace is 9.15-9.20 and so it turned out. On then, through villages and long quiet stretches. There, again, was the bagpipe band at the corner where I remember a huge group of students yelling Oggy oggy oggy during the year of the fog (2014), so that their voices trailed behind you with the mist. There was Vicar Terry. After that I don’t remember much until the first switchback, which puzzled me. I knew there was a long, long switchback coming at mile 18 or so (actually 16-20), but I’d forgotten this one. I think it was this one that had a singing Elvis at the end, which helped. It was also nice to see fellow Harriers running up the other side. (FRB was too quick.) There were half a dozen of us doing the race, all in club vests. I mention that because I do feel slightly odd running a marathon in a club vest, when there is now huge unspoken pressure to run for charity. But I think if you run for charity it must be something that you find very, very difficult. I don’t feel justified in asking for people’s money otherwise, and marathons, though they are not easy, are not challenge enough for me to be able to ask for money. No, I’m not going to start running with a fridge. I’ll think of something.

There must have been things I thought about up until mile 16, but I can’t remember them. I know that I wished for company, and tried to talk to a few people along the way but with not much success. I passed one woman who was wearing in some marvellous socks, and complimented her on them. I told her I’d cut the feet off mine, just making conversation, and she said, “Oh, bless you.” Which is odd. I had another conversation when I interjected in a conversation behind me about the Three Peaks. Of course my ears prick up at that. A man was telling a woman that there was a Three Peaks Challenge, and I told him there was a race too, and that it was quicker than walking.

I didn’t promise you intellectual heights. This was marathon chat.

But mostly, I was on my own. Afterwards, FRB told me he had run three-quarters of the way with club-mates, and that the only stretch he’d run on his own was the hardest. I don’t like running alone in a road marathon, and I don’t find big city marathons very friendly. Probably that’s because people are digging in and with better things to do than chat to me. But 4.5 hours of keeping yourself entertained is a long 4.5 hours. Of course the difference in fell running in the size of the field and the number of supporters. In fell running you get camaraderie from your fellow runners. In big marathons, it comes from supporters. And they were indeed great, from the little ginger lad on his knees with a tupperware box on his head, repeating in sing-song tones, “Sweets…for energy! Sweets…for energy!” to the little girl who had clasped a sweet in her hand and had her hand stuck out, so I took the sweet and then wondered whether I’d stolen it.

I high-fived as many children as I could. Later, I was interviewed by a woman and a cameraman, and I must have been high on endorphins then because I emitted a comment of extreme cheesiness. Something like high-fiving a child is like fairy dust: each one makes you run faster. Just writing that makes my Yorkshire plain-speaking hackles rise. But it’s true that anything that is stimulation really helps, and high-fiving children: running over to that side of the road, making human contact, is stimulation. Humans need stimulation, even while running a very long distance, as this excellent piece by George Monbiot demonstrates.

My next dose of stimulation was going to be seeing Anne and Noel at mile 18. This switchback is long, long and long. Anne was at the beginning of it, taking photos and hugging the running Minion (you know your place in the universe when a child who is about to cheer you on suddenly gazes away from you and says, “there’s a Minion!). Here is her report, and here is that scene-stealing Minion.



Here also is Anne’s picture of me. No flailing feet, which is good, though I’m not surprised my thighs were chafing. (I’m trying a low-carb, high-fat diet to get rid of the evidence of too much cake, wine, and HRT.). But I’m smiling.



I said hello to my fellow Harriers again, and thought a couple of them were looking a little less serene. Later, I overtook two of them, which was unexpected. “I’m goosed,” said Chris, when I passed. I think I must have been flying on the flat Coke which was the one thing I’d made sure to carry. By now “mile 18” and “flat Coke” are indelibly paired in my head. At this point, my pace dropped to ten minute miles and never picked up again. But I kept going, because my next target was my brother Nick and niece Alice – “we are a small but perfectly formed welcoming committee” – in Osbaldwick, at mile 24. Before that, we had another long quiet stretch which was the most difficult of the lot. Then to Murton, where there was another pipe band in full bearskin hats and kilts. They looked amazing, and I thought, the least I can do to show my appreciation is do a wee jig, so I did, doing two full pirouettes, persuading a fellow runner to do one with me, and not falling over, although my steering by then was very shaky. The supporters applauded and I think the conductor gave me a wink or a nod. Stimulus, again. It was odd that I felt so good. I’d overtaken lots of people walking, but I kept going. I think, again, it was about mental strength. I need to remind myself that I’ve trained my brain pretty well and to acknowledge it to myself. As my friend Rachael says, you can throw flowers at yourself now and then.

I poured a bottle of water over my head as we got into Osbaldwick. It had in fact become uncomfortably warm for the previous few miles, and I didn’t want to stink too much. There were loads of people out and about, and every cheer and clap was, as ever, a really important boost. If you were out supporting last Sunday, THANK YOU. I am extremely grateful. It really, really helps. Thank you too for all the uplifting music. To the people at about mile 20 who were playing Chariots of Fire, though, you know that that just makes everyone want to run in slow motion?

So, to my small but perfectly formed welcoming committee. I forced a hug upon Alice, who gamely accepted it. I love this photo:



Then another stretch along a road, along another road, to the Shell garage which now, belatedly, I recognised as being the same Shell garage we’d run past in the first mile, and at which I had gazed wistfully in the hope that it had a toilet. I knew that there was a hill coming and then the finish. Probably I could have run faster, but I liked the pace I was doing, because I could still talk. My feet hurt, but nothing else had gone wrong. Up the hill, which apparently some people crawl up but which if you live in Leeds is nowt, then along to the finish. I managed a sprint for the final 100 metres, and tried to chivvy a young woman along with me, but she didn’t follow, so I crossed the line and had no idea what time I’d done. I hadn’t noted the clock time when I crossed the start; I’d lost time when I’d gone to the toilet; and I’d stupidly stopped my watch. So I had no idea. And at that point, I didn’t much mind. (It was 4:18.)

I took water from the army lads handing it out, saying to one, “I bet you could run that in full kit,” and the lad laughed. I got my t-shirt, my medal, and hobbled back to the VIP lounge, where FRB was finishing some soup. He’d done 3.36 which I think is excellent, but he wanted to get under 3.30 so he’ll just have to do another road marathon. I urgently removed my shoes and apologised to my blistered feet. And once I removed my bum bag, I realised that my back was severely bruised and swollen. Stupid me for running in untested kit: I should have worn my fell waist pack instead, rather than digging out a smaller waist-pack that I never use and thinking, “that will do.”

I say frequently that I’m not going to do long road races any more. But I have much affection for the Yorkshire marathon. It’s only in its fourth year, it’s well organised, there is great support, and how many other races can provide something that looks like York Minster, ringing its bells for you? So I’ll be back. Maybe. Probably.


Yorkshireman off-road marathon

They call it YORM. It is an acronym I won’t forget, however ugly it is, because for 26.3 miles, every so often there was another red YORM sticker on a wall or a fence post or on the ground. The route was so well stickered I wondered if I could have got round without recce-ing, without going over the map and the narrative instructions a dozen times, trying desperately to embed them in my brain, and asking FRB to test me the day before as we lay abed, fiercely tapering by doing nothing, and I went through the whole route. He gave me a score of 75% and looked impressed. That, from a human sat-nav, is fine with me.

I wasn’t nervous. Perhaps because this was my fourth marathon (though at one point, with my menopausal brain fog still rearing up now and then, I couldn’t remember how many I’d done). Perhaps because I don’t aspire to be fast these days and we weren’t going for a particular time. We, because I was running as a pair with Sara from Pudsey Pacers. I’d asked her a while ago, once I’d found out that YORM allowed pairs to run together. I knew she’d be great company, and we are currently fairly well matched on pace. We’ve had some lovely recces together, which I will remember fondly, not least for the fact that we discovered Asa Nicholson’s bakery and cafe in Denholme, and would stock up there with flapjack and bread and pork pies and coffee, and drink coffee and flapjack before setting off. The young woman serving us was a torrent of loveliness and positive energy, and buying a block of fresh yeast from her – another amazing and valuable discovery – was the equivalent of several energy gels. She has just started running, and runs with a women’s running group in Denholme. We said, have you been on the moors yet? She said no, that was beyond her, and we told her firmly otherwise, waving up at the beautiful moorland that we could see out of the bakery window, so I hope she gets up there soon.

I felt confident about knowing the route, which is fortunate, as several weeks after the marathon, I discovered that in my race kit I’d packed the narrative instructions for Rombald Stride instead. FRB had written us narrative instructions, as the assistance from Keighley Harriers was, er, minimal, consisting of a pdf of the route map which I’d had to ask for. Charlie, the organiser, said they would be selling them on race day but that’s not much use for recces. So FRB came to the rescue, except he had based the instructions on his memory of running the Yorkshireman in 2013, as well as OS, so there were little changes, like a wind farm that no longer exists. And some allotments which exist only in FRB’s head. But in general, they were brilliant. So I did two recces with Sara, meeting her at Lees reservoir near Oxenhope and running back to Denholme, then driving back to Oxenhope. We both managed the two car thing without either of us leaving our car keys in the wrong car (it is easy to do), though my yeast ended up in Sara’s boot and in her husband’s bread later in the week. I like recces; you don’t have to pelt them out at a pace, you get time to see the scenery, and time to hopefully learn the route. I fell twice on this one though, as you can see from this post. I did another one with FRB, from Denholme to the finish (though without going up the steep, cobbled, horrid Butt Lane that the malicious race organisers have put in the route), another one with FRB one gorgeous mid-week evening, because Sara and I had gone wrong over Warley Moor, ending up on a road with no clue, no good map and no phone signal. So I wanted to get that bit right in my head. In fact the path is pretty clear, we had just had a different interpretation of “head to Rocking Stone Flat.” FRB maintains Rocking Stone Flat is a long rock formation and you can’t see most of it so you are heading to it, whereas I still maintain that when instructions say head to Rocking Stone Flat, and Rocking Stone Flat is as distinctive as this:


We are still choosing to disagree about it. Hours of fun.

The final recce was again with Sara, and again going from Denholme (via Asa Nicholson’s of course) to the finish, and again avoiding Butt Lane until we couldn’t avoid it any longer (on race day). This time something went wrong again. I think it was the progesterone I have to take for two weeks a month, but about 20 minutes after we’d stopped on Harden Moor for a lovely cheese pasty, I suddenly had stomach cramps, a vague term that in this case meant severe shooting pains. I ran through it for several miles, but every footfall sent a shudder of pain into my pelvis, and finally I had to admit that I had to stop and walk. Sara was wonderfully patient, and had injury issues of her own to deal with – a dodgy ankle – and said she was glad of the walk. I think we were a couple of miles from the finish, and I’d spent several miles trying not to cry. FRB, who had done his own run but elsewhere on the route, joined us as we hit the Worth Way back into Haworth, and seemed alarmed at how quiet I was. Pain makes you quiet, sometimes. You concentrate all your effort into enduring it. All I could think of was getting to the car and lying down, and that’s what I did. Not sending all that impact up into my abdomen and pelvis helped. Anyway, it wasn’t fun, and I got myself to the GP. I’m getting a scan, but I’m pretty certain it was the progesterone.

Back to the marathon. After a week of tapering, I felt fat and heavy and horrible, and I was looking forward to fresh air and running, while of course having no clue how to run and feeling like I’d never done it before. In short, a normal taper. FRB and I have learned that for big races, we are best off staying in our respective houses and meeting at the venue. Race nerves do not lead to harmony or good sleep. So that’s what we did. I was, for me, amazingly well prepared. I’d made lists. 


I laid everything out in careful piles. I thought about hydration, nutrition, covering. I bought veggie sausages and chopped them into bite-sized pieces because there always comes a time in a marathon when I can’t bear any more sugar or energy gels gloop. I made marzipan balls and stuffed them with chopped nuts and coated them with desiccated coconut. Of course in the end I ate no sausages and had one marzipan ball, but fell runners are like Scouts: always be prepared.

The race began at the primary school in Haworth where it would also end. There is also a Yorkshireman half that starts half an hour later, and I was the only Harrier running the full marathon so there were no other purples around. The school corridors were a pungent mix of Deep Heat and coffee. And I hadn’t quite thought through my parking decision: I’d parked at the bottom of Butt Lane, but not carried kit with me, not realising what a schlep it was up to the school. I suppose I was just paying for not having done recces of Butt Lane. Instead, I did two of them on race morning. I felt OK, and it was nice to be in cheery company; a few Pudsey Pacers were doing the full, along with Sara.

Having done a damn good warm-up up and down Butt Lane, I finally found myself with kit in the right place. I got changed: lucky striped socks (actually hooped calf sleeves, FRB), funny Injinji toe socks over toes slathered with anti-chafing cream. My Kirkstall vest, sadly, was still somewhere over on the Dark Side, as I’d left it behind at Turnslack fell race and it hadn’t made its way home yet. I had a technical Kirkstall 30th anniversary t-shirt instead, which I hadn’t done a long run in – oops – but hoped would do. (It did, mostly, though its tendency to ride up made for some unflattering belly shots before I realised I should tuck it in.) We were ready.
The marathon runners gathered up on the cobbled streets of Haworth. I hadn’t recced the first couple of miles, as I reckoned there would be enough people to follow, and that was the case. Charlie Marshall, the race director, gave instructions. The first one was, has everyone got their dibber? You were given it when you collected (re-usable, rather stiff) race numbers but it wasn’t extremely clear and I could see how people might have missed it. There were two audible exclamations and two blokes ran off back to the school, a good five minutes away, to collect theirs. In fact their start was timed from the school, which was generous. 
And off we went. Up, up, and more up. God, it hurt. I knew the first couple of miles was going to be hilly, but by ‘eck. The Yorkshireman is a CL in Fell Running Association rules, which means it’s long and the flattest of all categories, but what climb it has has mostly been chucked into the first section. Sara and I agreed: steady. Save the legs. And so we did, up to Lees Reservoir, up another hill, and then onto a long long conduit, where we encountered both Woodentops (Dave, then Eileen Woodhead). I tried to jump in the air for Dave, but it didn’t quite work. I think Eileen took this picture, which I love:
We were passed at this point by a bloke in a green kilt. I asked him what tartan it was. Obviously that’s the kind of chat you have on a long off-road marathon. “It’s not mine,” he said, and I thought he meant the kilt. But he meant the tartan. It was what FRB calls McParty Tartan. Off they ran, kilt flapping, and we didn’t see them again. As the miles went past, the field got thinner and thinner. But they also passed amazingly quickly, as Sara and I were chatting about families, Bake-off, running, everything. I looked at my watch and saw we’d done nearly six miles.
I was delighted to realise that I knew most of the route. There were parts which blended into each other, usually long stretches of field and stiles. Although FRB is still training me to remember routes by what kind of stile – “no, then you go over a wooden one,” and how many, I still can’t remember them. But I knew enough to be sure-footed. I also didn’t fall over. It was a lovely day to begin with: not too hot, sunshine, and the views over the moors were gorgeous. I tried to take them in, while trying to keep a decent pace, while trying to save the legs. I lied about not going for a time: I started off hoping for 5 hours, then that diminished to 5.30 hours. I kept that hope until the last seven miles or so when it was clear it wouldn’t happen.
It was so great running with confidence that I knew the route. I know I’m emphasising this, but usually I feel inadequate, and rely on FRB or other runners. I’m going to do proper recces more often. At Ogden Water, a pair of runners we’d been pendulum-running with (they go ahead, we catch them up, we go ahead, they catch them up) suddenly stopped and looked lost. We showed them the way, but they stopped at the toilets, and on the road beyond the reservoir there is a cunning hairpin turn onto a track, and I don’t think it was stickered. After that we were on our own for the rest of the race, so I think several people must have missed it. At Denholme Velvets, there was a checkpoint where we were greeted with “Table for two, ladies?”. The marshal was lovely, and he had jam sandwiches, which made me love him more. At least until he said, “you’ve done all the hills now.” Really? I said, and reeled off the four I knew were coming. There was a runner at the checkpoint who had DNF-ed (for non-runners: Did Not Finish). He looked rueful. “I had a week in Paris and ate all the cheese and drank all the wine.” In which case, well done to him for running 15 miles. He didn’t look rueful about having consumed all the cheese and wine.
I’d thought that we’d probably only find crumbs at some checkpoints, but in fact there was something to scoff at all of them, and most of it welcome. I even ate the squares of cheese and pineapple just after Hewenden Viaduct even though the cheese was weeping in the heat and the flies were loving it. 
By Denholme, we were over half-way. It had got hotter and hotter: I put a buff on my head which may have been daft, especially as I was also carrying a cap (a buff is heavier). I made sure to drink lots, and had pee stops, which is always a good sign that I wasn’t just absorbing all the water and therefore not hydrated enough. And on we went, on and on, over track and moor and past llamas (or are they alpacas?).
There were apples from trees and orchards and blackberries, and miles of gorgeous views, and walkers and no wind farms. On Warley Moor there were bogs, and more bogs, and it was what is known as “technical.” I usually love to run through bogs, but even I had to slow, sometimes to a walk. It would have been quite hard to finish a marathon with a bog-twisted ankle.
With about seven miles to go, Sara started to get niggles. She already had problems with her ankle, and then her back started playing up. We slowed it down, and in the same way she had been so kind and considerate when I’d been crippled by stomach pains on our recce, I considered it my job to make it as easy for her as I could to get to the end. I was also finding it tough in the last miles: My feet were battered, but my spirits were actually OK. I’d like to think that my Three Peaks training, though it was so many months ago, has taught my brain to be strong when it’s knackered. So I tried to strike a balance of being encouraging – “we’re on the home stretch” “we’re doing really well” – and accurate “there are 2.5 miles to go” and I hope I managed it without being annoying. The last thing you want when you are tired and in serious discomfort and just want it all to end is someone cheerleading in your face. There are some hills in the last stretch which aren’t that high but feel like mountains, particularly one up to the bracken moor overlooking Haworth. At that point, I felt exhausted and my spirits really sagged. My feet hurt, both the hard skin under my big toes, and my toes were battered. Every time they hit a rock, I cursed. The air over Haworth was blue. I’d tried to greet everyone I passed, but by this point, no chance. Sorry, mountain bikers on the bracken moor. 
By now I realised that 5.30 was out of the question, but I thought we might do 5.45. Really, at that point, it didn’t matter. But as the miles had gone on, it was inevitable that conversation faltered, so I’d had to keep my mind busy somehow. After the bracken, which seemed to go on for miles, it was downhill into Haworth, past a checkpoint where a marshal was bizarrely shirty with us (I only remember him because everyone else had been lovely), along the Worth Way where we passed another marathon pair, one in an Um Bongo vest, along the cobbled road to the bottom of Butt Lane.
It won’t be that bad, FRB had told me of Butt Lane, because there will be loads of people cheering you up. Not if you take six hours to run the marathon, there aren’t. Everyone had left. We made our way up: walking the first very steep stretch, then shuffling up. Two people had remained to cheer, and that was extremely welcome. Thank you. I knew we weren’t last, because I knew that we’d lost several people at Ogden Water. We’d also heard on the way round about the Lost Americans: a group of Americans, or people who had come from America, who, when we got to one checkpoint, were nearly an hour behind us. Afterwards, I found out that one of them had arrived at Manchester airport after an overnight flight, at 8am, dashed to Haworth, started late, and they still ran a full marathon. Respect.
But from the quietness of Butt Lane, the number of runners driving home, I knew we were pretty far back in the field. Never mind. Keep shuffling. Butt Lane is awful, but I think the incline up to the school is worse. You think you’re nearly there, and it just goes on and on and on. But we did it, and FRB took a picture which shows us running in perfect sync, no sagging hips or flailing feet.
Past the first entrance, to the second entrance, down the steps, along the passageway, to the main entrance and
Six hours and forty-eight seconds.
I’m proud we got round, and I loved running as a pair. I really appreciated Sara’s company, and I’d recommend running a marathon as a pair, if only for the experience. I’ve run three four marathons now, and for two of them I spent several hours on my own in the middle of crowds of people and often wished for someone to help the miles pass. It can get quite lonely in big city marathons. So running companionship is great. And so is the Yorkshireman: The scenery is magnificent, it’s all runnable, the marshals are delightful, and they give you stew and a t-shirt afterwards (though, annoyingly, my pre-ordered S t-shirt had been taken by someone quicker).
I confess: I wish we’d done it faster but I would, wouldn’t I? And that’s what next year’s race is for.



ADMISSION: I have started, worked on and failed to finish the post below about a dozen times. I’ve sort of lost my mojo, both for running and for running writing. It may be because I’m stressed about my book, or because I have put on weight and can’t shift it (not least because I keep eating all the cake), because I still get days of depression though it’s much better than it was; because I feel I’m getting slower; because I realise I loathe road running and don’t find the time to get off-road. It may be that I did legitimately have to stop running when I fell four times in two days (twice on a recce, twice on a fell race the next day that I didn’t have to do, while overtaking when I didn’t have to, but it was too tempting). My leg got infected, and I was off for a week:


But then again: I have done many recces for the Yorkshireman marathon (this Sunday!) with FRB and with my marathon partner Sara (we’re running as a pair). Here is half of us totally lost on Warley moor:




I have run in the evenings over moors in gorgeous sunshine and it was so beautiful I had to stop and gaze and gaze more, even though FRB was cantering off into the distance and I was supposed to keep up. I have made new friends:


And I have learned to work it while in fell shoes:


I have done hill reps that I was supposed to do, and some training runs that I was supposed to do. I have run around Harewood in the rain and loved it, and though I felt heavy and slow, still stopped at the horrible hill and run up and down it three times though that wasn’t in my plan. But I don’t feel ready for Sunday, even while I’m looking forward to it. I wish I could be the person who adhered completely to her training plan, but I was only ever that person in the months before the London marathon. I don’t know why I don’t adhere to my training plan. I just know that recently there have been spells of two or three days where I have done no exercise, even though I know it not exercising makes me feel dreadful. Yet still I haven’t done it.

Probably I’m being too harsh. Probably I’ve done more than it feels like I have. I got up yesterday at 6.30 and ran around Roundhay and listened to the birds waking up and saw the swans snoozing. I did a 17 mile road run around Eccup which was beautiful, though my feet hurt. But it feels like there’s something missing, and I hope I will soon get it back. Or is this just Taper Fever?

Anyway, that post.

There are differences between fell and road running. Different shoes, with things called “cleats” or “lugs.” An inability to leave the house for a run without a waist pack containing at least a waterproof and some jelly-beans because you never know what the skies will bring. A lack of neon, and definitely a lack of headphones. But one of the things that I think distinguishes running outside, off-road, on moors and fells and hills, is laughter.

For example, Turnslack. It’s a race on the Dark Side near Rochdale. Steve from Brooks Running UK has always been generous in so many ways, by sending kit and shoes, but also by liking and praising all my fell-running exploits and writing. He’s an experienced runner, but not a fell runner. The only fell race he had done was the Carnethy Five, a notoriously tough one up and up and up the Pentlands near Edinburgh. He didn’t enjoy it (he says it made him cry). So months and months ago we started to talk about him coming up north (Brooks is based near Brighton) to do a proper fell race. Now, there is hierarchy in fell running like anything else, and us who don’t live in the Lakes or belong to the famous Lakeland clubs – Keswick, Ambleside, Borrowdale – might think we do not have “proper” fell races. I went to a talk by Nicky Spinks recently in which she said that the Three Peaks was not a proper fell race because you don’t have to navigate. I don’t mind that opinion, but in that case I’ve probably never done a proper fell race. But in my head, a proper fell race is one that has muck and moors and hills and bogs. With juggling of dates and Steve’s availability, we decided on Turnslack. Steve thought he could fit in the race with visits to his northern clients, so last Saturday we drove over the M62, past moors I’d always thought I’d love to run on, to a race which was going to enable me to run on them. The HQ was in a church, which was hilarious. We got there so early that FRB and I both had single digit numbers, which reminded me of running the Yorkshire marathon and starting ahead of the Kenyans. Steve arrived shortly afterwards, having driven up from Brighton, and with the intention of driving straight down again after the race (the client visits didn’t work out). He looked a bit nervous:


We milled around, as usual, queued for the one toilet (in the church), then gathered in the road opposite the churchyard, which was also the bus route, and the short-cut into town. So setting off took a while, as it consisted of the race director starting to speak, then everyone moving to the sides of the road as yet another car arrived. Finally, the race director – who hadn’t invested in a megaphone – said something like “oh sod it, off you go,” and off we went. Steve was wearing Pure Grits, which are great, but I wasn’t sure they would have sufficient grip for bogs and slippery grass. But the first few miles were on track, I think (FRB will probably correct me. In fact read his account here for more clarity than I will provide). It seemed to be a long slog upwards. Steve and I ran together then he pulled away and I could see his bright neon t-shirt in the distance, a disturbingly long way off. I knew I’d try to catch him up later though: my shoes were grippier than his so I might have an advantage on the descents, if they ever bloody turned up. This race was all up, up, up. Even so, I felt OK, and it was a beautiful day and the scenery was a delight. I stopped now and then to take pictures, including of Steve looking a wee bit happier:


Finally there was a descent, then a climb, then another descent. And I caught Steve up. My cleats were bigger than his. But also, descending is something you get better at, which is probably not expected. Everyone can run downhill, right? It’s running uphill that is the hard bit. Not really. Many people who run downhill do so with the brakes on. They lock their knees, consciously or unconsciously, because they are scared of falling over. I’m not the best downhiller either but my one advantage is that I love it. It is a joyful thing to do, a reversion to the unfettered, unbothered enjoyment of being a child and outside (without Pokemon Go). And if I fall, and if anyone falls while running downhill, or going through bogs, there is usually laughter (as long as injuries aren’t too serious). I have fallen and bounced up, laughing. I have fallen and not bounced up, but still been laughing. I have been helped out of bogs and picked up, all with kindness and a grin. It’s why, though I don’t think I’m a proper fell runner (I haven’t been doing it long enough), there’s nowhere else I want to run, now. You don’t get many giggles in road races.

But, Turnslack. I overtook Steve and he didn’t catch me. I probably fell over again. I didn’t actually know how long the race was (or rather, I’d forgotten), so when, suddenly I landed on a road, and I could see a spire, I thought there must be another two mile loop to do. But no: down the road, turn the corner, along the road, take a sharp right, and up the lych gate entrance into the churchyard. It’s probably the only race in the world where you get to finish your race tracing the route of a corpse. (Lych-gates are where funerals pass through.)

Steve finished soon after, and pretended he’d enjoyed it. Maybe that’s because he knew that inside the church doorway there was splendid cake served by cheery women, and excellent tea. There was also a prize-giving ceremony with a wide variety of prizes, including bathroom scales. Which made me laugh, just like fell running makes me laugh, with joy. And there isn’t enough of that about.



Leopards, camels, thorns: the Asola XC stage race, Delhi

It’s hot at 3.30am. I know that because at 3.30am I was sitting outside in the hotel gardens, waiting for my ride to the Asola XC race in Bhatti Mines wildlife sanctuary south of Delhi. A fellow runner named Rohit had offered via FB to give me a ride, but when he turned up, it was with a whole SUV full of runners. I was wide awake, weirdly, probably because I had barely slept: from 11pm to 12.30, then again from 1 to 3. When I’d booked a backup wake-up call, the woman had asked if I wanted coffee, and oh yes, I did, and it was delicious. So was the wake-up call, because it was delivered by another woman whose voice sounded like a morning cobweb covered with droplets of dew. Shiver. I’d managed to go the toilet, a big worry as I wasn’t sure what toilet facilities there would be. This was a complicated race, with people doing 20, 40 or 60km, and then some of those people also doing 40, 60 or 80km bike rides the next day. There were only 100 or so entrants and Chiro Mitra, one of the organisers, had done races before. One of his races, in the stunning looking Siti Valley up north, even featured in Conde Nast Traveler’s prettiest races in India, a very good resource which I have thoroughly book-marked. But you never know about toilets, do you?

I wasn’t hungry. This was a problem. I’d scoffed a pizza the night before, and my body thought we were still in the same eating period and I didn’t need any more, but my brain knew that to run 20K, with compromised fitness, I did. I ate half a tiny granola bar, made by the hotel chefs from some blend of nuts, seeds, sesame, something sticky, and fabulous. I’d been taking them away from the breakfast buffet for a couple of days, like a running squirrel. I managed to eat an apple. And that would have to do, although I knew this was a race where nutrition and hydration would be difficult to judge, because even if I felt hydrated, I couldn’t guarantee I would be, in 35 degrees of heat. The excellent coffee meant that I got in the car very perky and chatty, but it didn’t last. The lads chatted in Hindi, which was soothing, so I stayed quiet and watched early morning Delhi go past. It’s the first time I’ve ever travelled to a race with Sikh prayers being sung on the car radio. For fun, I tried to transpose the situation, trying to picture driving to a fell race with a car-full of young Yorkshire lads listening to Gregorian chants. I couldn’t do it. It wouldn’t happen.

Delhi wasn’t quite awake. The pavement dwellers were asleep on the pavements, poor sods, and the roads were spacious and free, not clogged and cacophonic and horn-please (which is painted on the back of every truck) everywhere. Sangeeta, another of the organisers, had helpfully posted the map co-ordinates on the race’s Facebook page, even though the lads, like every taxi driver I’ve used on this trip. used sat-nav. They’d managed to get one with an Indian voice at least. I thought sat-nav mangling of street names couldn’t get worse than what mine does every time I take it to France, but then I got here and heard American robots trying to deal with Subramanian Barti Marg. The streets were clear enough that we got there quickly. I jumped out and got my bag out and started sorting things, then looked up to see two of the lads had lit cigarettes. It was such an unusual sight, I blurted out “Smoking runners?” and they looked embarrassed. “We’re not really runners. We’re cyclists.” That’s OK then. You don’t need lungs for cycling.

It was still dark, but people were gathering. There were men in shorts, and men in running kit, and men, men and men. I’d been told that eight women were running, but I didn’t know if they would turn up. Oh well. I’ve been stared at often over the past few weeks. Not just glanced at for longer than necessary, but proper, frank, “what the hell are YOU” lingering stares. What difference would another morning-ful make? In fact, of course, everyone was extremely friendly and charming and my paranoia was daft. Also, they had better things to do than notice women runners, like run absurdly long distances in pounding heat. The 40 and 60K runners would probably be about until mid-morning, when it would be blisteringly hot. Perhaps that’s why we’d been asked to be there in time for the start of the 40 and 60K race, as they were leaving at 4.45: so that we could see them off into the breach. Until then there was milling.

IMG_7864 There was one portaloo, which was clean and decent, though I had to step over curious horned cattle to get there. There was a bag drop (seen later in daylight): IMG_7925 There were women! I met Faizi, who said it was her first trail race, and saw a couple of other women too. I met Maneesh, who is from Nepal, and unlike Indians I’ve spoken to, had heard of Mira Rai. He also knew Richard who runs Trailrunning Nepal, who set me up to run with his flatmate Billi when I was in Kathmandu. There were introductions and handshakes, the 40K and 60K runners set off, and we milled some more, and then it was our turn. There were probably only about 50 of us, though Chiro will probably tell me differently. The running scene in India is growing, but it’s young. Here is a very good piece about it.

I had no idea how I would do. I had been sick for a few days with a stomach bug which I stupidly got from breaking my rule of never eating from buffets, even posh hotel ones. Even before that, I hadn’t run, as I’d seen a physio about my shoulder, still painful from my fall on Whernside many weeks ago, and she’d said to stop any forward or backward motion in my arm for a few days, which ruled out running and front crawl. On the Thursday and Friday before the race, I’d come very close to not running it. But, as FRB sensibly said, when am I going to get an experience like this again? So here I was, waiting in darkness, chatting to a man from Nepal. And then we were off.

The race was in Asola wildlife sanctuary. It’s a reserve that has been created from an old mining area. I’d met Chiro when I went to pick up my number, and he had said, casually, “well, people say there have been leopard sightings, but I don’t believe it. But you’ll probably see wild hares.” There was a 2.5 km run to the gate of the reserve, then another 7.5km to the turnaround point, whereupon we would loop back. The 40K and 60K runners simply did the loop two or three times. The track was dry and dusty, but fine to run on with road shoes, the only ones I’d brought to India. I’d also not got my club vest, but was winging it with a shirt in our club colours of purple and purple. I set off at a comfortable pace, and kept that up nicely. Now and then, I stopped to take photographs. I wasn’t at race fitness, so I may as well take advantage of running in a beautiful place. IMG_7921 Now and then I ran with people, and it was companionable. All of us against the elements. “It’s going to be tough after 7am,” one said to me. And with my best pep-talk head on, I said, “we’ll be done by 7!” (I wasn’t.) I kept an eye on the sides of the track for leopards, or hares, but nothing was up yet. There were brutal thorn bushes everywhere, but they could do nothing to me: I’ve been trained on Yorkshire brambles. Suddenly, there was a beautiful lake: IMG_7926There were water stations every 2.5K.I knew this from the marvellous route plan that Chiro had posted. Eclairs and love and more love. 13254034_10154270934194225_7048921463742031716_n IMG_7871 At each one, I poured water on my head, having read this piece about whether drinking or pouring water is better for hydration. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t feel overheated until the last 5K, when the sun was higher in the sky. Mostly, I felt fine and cool. I took ORS (oral rehydration solutions) at the first three water stations, calculating that it would replace energy gels. I’d tried to buy some at a sports store in Delhi and the lad looked at me like I had two heads. But after the third bottle of ORS, I realised my mistake. My guts started cramping, I started looking for good areas for open defecation, and I began to do my trusty anti-defecation reflexology on my left hand (you’ll have to read The Big Necessity or ask my clubmate Jill Buckley to know more). It worked, though I’d packed toilet roll in my backpack just in case. I only got lost once. Mostly the signage was a) eco and b) sufficient. rocks By now I was meeting the 60K and 40K runners who were heading back, then the faster 20K runners. Every one of them gave a wave or a thumbs up and some encouragement: All the best! Keep it up! Good running. It was wonderful. I did the same back, of course. I got to the 10K water station, ate half a biscuit, got sprayed with water by Chiro, and headed back. I was still feeling OK and not yet walking, but my time was slow. There were long stretches by now when I was on my own. I’d been on my own a bit on the way out too, and seen a group of young lads on motorbikes, which I wasn’t particularly happy about. Lone white woman in mini-skirt running through the bush encounters group of mobby boys on bikes. But they carried on on their early excursion and I was fine. I was happier at this sight: IMG_7920 The wildlife count then kept going up, though only to one peacock and two jackals. I passed fellow runners still heading for the turnaround, and offered one some of my magic granola bar. He took it then ran off calling “is it veg?” Only in India. By 15K, I was tired. It was getting hotter, my lack of fitness was showing, and I started walking bits. At the final checkpoint, 2.5K from the finish, I again poured water on my head, and the volunteer said, “No, don’t do that. Your body will heat up to compensate.” I said, but I’ve read research that shows your body absorbs water better this way and asked him why he thought differently. He said he’d spoken to a policeman on duty, and police are used to standing out in the sun all day, and the policeman was certain that the body heated up if water was poured on it. So, policeman and Runner’s World scientists, go and do battle.

I’d stuck my ego firmly in a box, but it was struggling to get out. I knew I was the second woman, and that Faizi was ahead. I also knew she had a green t-shirt, and I could see someone in a green t-shirt far ahead, on the final strait. For about five minutes, I got all excited about maybe being first woman, and caught up the green t-shirt. It wasn’t Faizi. By now my pace felt like it had quickened a bit, and there was only 1K to go, and I overtook some men, encouraging them to pick up the pace. Finally there were the cars, and the finish, and I sprinted to it with another runner. Sangeeta, one of the race organisers, put a medal around my neck. And what a medal. IMG_7918 IMG_7919 Then, water, and rest, and spiced buttermilk – the Indian version of protein shake – and more water. IMG_7923 Breakfast arrived from one of the race sponsors, but I still couldn’t eat anything. I think I had one crisp. The race was very satisfactory for my Yorkshire parsimony: I paid about £10 to enter, and got a medal, a t-shirt (in an XS size!) (that exclamation mark is because that never happens), food, drink, and love. We took photos, and cheered people home, and waited for the guy who had the car key. And waited, and waited. But eventually he arrived, we drove back to the hotel, and I ate 5kg of pancakes and slept the whole day. It was probably the slowest race I’ve ever run. 12.6 miles in 2:22. But that wasn’t the point. The point was to run a race with people I’d never normally run with, in a place I’d never normally encounter. It was fabulous. So fabulous, I broke a rule as powerful as my never-eat-from-buffets, and did a double thumbs up. FRB will never hear the end of it. So, a day of meeting great new running mates, going somewhere I’d never go before, and doing something on Saturday that on Friday I was convinced I couldn’t do. And the leopards stayed away.   IMG_7889 Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 16.26.03

The 62nd Three Peaks Race

About a year ago, I was standing on the summit of Pen-y-Ghent, one of three small mountains or large hills, depending on your view, which make up the Yorkshire Three Peaks. I was marshalling the 61st Three Peaks fell race, a 24-mile run up and down all three peaks – Pen-y-Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough – that includes 5300 feet of climb, and usually at least two of the four seasons. There were half a dozen of us marshals at the summit, and our job was to guide runners up to the dibbers, the devices that runners have to check in to at various checkpoints. The rain was horizontal. The temperature was freezing. The fog was dense. And I was as cold as I’d been for many years. As the first runners approached out of the fog, and as I jumped up and down trying and failing to find some warmth, I decided something.

Running must be more fun than freezing to your bones in a hi-vis vest. Next year, I’ll run it.

And so I have. And I got round. And I am inexpressibly delighted. Because it was the hardest race I’ve ever done, and because I nearly didn’t manage it. So here is a race report that will probably take you as long to read as it took me to get up to Pen-y-Ghent (just over 50 minutes).

FRB drew me up two training plans. The first started in December and carried me through to running Rombald’s Stride in February. The second went up to last week. Each week, I had to run a combination of hills, speed intervals, tempo runs and more hills. There were negative splits, and a Chapel Allerton circuit right on my doorstep that combined a hill run, a tempo run immediately afterwards, and a recovery run. I got weirdly fond of that. The aim was not just to get me better at climbing hills, but to ensure that having climbed a tough hill, I could run off the top of it. I suppose you could call it the Running Off Tired Legs Plan.

I tried to fit in one session of strength training and one Pilates session a week. I also tried to do 100 or so deep squats a day, to strengthen my quads and ankles, both crucial for climbing, and to keep up my glute exercises which would hopefully keep my troublesome tendon happy. I sort of paid attention to my food, trying to eat lots of iron-rich kale and greens, and as race day grew closer, making sure I ate plenty of carbohydrates, and getting thoroughly sick of pasta.

Of course I didn’t do as much as I should have, either with the running or the strength sessions. Mostly that was because I was fighting depression and the menopause, or because I was taking sleeping tablets to sleep now that the menopause is messing with that too, which made me horribly dopey. But all in all, I did OK. I ran in rain and snow and wind. I ran on moors and hills and road. I grew oddly fond of Stonegate Road in Leeds, not the most picturesque of roads (anyone who has run the Leeds Half will know it well). But it’s such an elegant rise up from Meanwood to the top. I got used to training in tough conditions and keeping going. I ran up so many hills that by the end of my second training plan, I could never run just once up a hill, but always had to do it at least twice. Like Post Hill, a crazily steep climb in Pudsey, where I ran a race that included two climbs and five miles of running, and as soon as I finished, I climbed the hill again, to the bemusement of everyone. I got better at climbing hills. There’s a circuit around Harewood, a country estate just north of Leeds, that I love to do because it’s beautiful, and there are stags, and there’s a horrible short hill that is very good training. When I started the first training plan, I could never run to the top of that hill without stopping and walking. By the end of plan 2, I ran up and down it four times without stopping.

I’ve walked the Peaks, but only once, so it was important to do a recce. I also wanted to know whether I had it in me to beat the cut-offs. So I did two recces up at the Peaks, the first with FRB, when we ran up Pen-y-Ghent then Whernside one day, then on the next from Ribblehead (a mile from the foot of Whernside) up Ingleborough and the five miles back to Horton, where the race starts and finishes. It wasn’t like running the whole race, but my legs on day two were sufficiently knackered that I thought it would give me a good indication of how I might feel on race day. Then I went back when FRB was running up in Scotland and did Whernside on my own, twice, thinking that I needed to know if I could run it on tired legs. I did OK. The first time, I got to the top in 45 minutes from Ribblehead, which was far better than expected. The second time, it was slower but I would still meet the cut-offs.

Oh yes. The cut-offs.

The weather of the Three Peaks can be as tough as the terrain. It can change on a ha’penny spin. And because there are dozens of marshals who have to stand out on summits and at checkpoints in all weathers, the race organisers ensure that anyone who enters is at least theoretically capable of running it in a time that will not leave marshals standing out all day. This is not a race for the relaxed. There is no winging it. To enter you must have either run the race before, or done two qualifying races of a certain distance and climb. I did Gisborough Moors and the Badger Bar Blast to qualify, and in the six months I was training, I did at least one fell race a month. On the day, you must reach each checkpoint by a certain time. If not, you will be stopped. The race would start at 10.30am and I would have to get to the checkpoints by these times:

High Birkwith: by 12.05pm
Ribblehead: by 12.30pm
Hill Inn (the final checkpoint): by 2pm

FRB had added the times I needed to run on my training plan, because he is a damn good coach (hire him!).

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 16.46.05

It’s odd though: I remember doing London and feeling streamlined and super fit. This time, although I had evidence, from every race I did, that I was stronger and better at climbing hills and even a bit faster, I didn’t feel particularly on top form. The recces had given me some confidence, but the cut-offs were still going to be tight. Right up to about 2pm on Saturday afternoon, I had no idea whether I would get through Hill Inn or not.

Both FRB and I are not particularly relaxed before races. I’m too chaotic, and FRB gets too wound up about my chaos, and the results are not relaxing for either of us. I thought that this race was so important for me that I wanted to minimise any stress, so I booked us a room at a lovely B&B in Chapel-le-Dale, the hamlet near the fateful checkpoint of Hill Inn. We had of course been checking the weather for days, and trying to ignore the freezing temperatures and snow outside. By the time we got to Chapel-le-Dale, the forecast was pretty good for race day: some sunshine, perhaps some light showers. But all the tops were covered in snow. This is what Pen-y-Ghent looked like. Inviting.


Which meant The Shoe Question.

Runners go on about shoes, but the amount that fell runners can discuss shoes makes road runners look like mutes. See, we have so much to think about, and particularly on the Three Peaks, which has track, cinder track, tarmac, bogs, rocks, rocky paths, becks, grass, and probably moon-rock too. So you have to calculate: do you want really aggressive studs on your shoes for the soft bits? But then you still have many miles to run on tarmac and hard surface, and you don’t want blisters. So do you choose trail shoes, which have less aggressive soles, but are softer on the feet? I was choosing between two shoes: Mudclaws or Roclites. Both are made by Inov-8, and both are great, but I know that Mudclaws batter my feet on hard surfaces because they have less cushioning. I decided on Roclites, which have less aggressive cleats (studs) but a bit more cushioning and would probably leave my feet in better shape.

I packed my kit carefully on Thursday and packed it again on Friday. FRB’s instructions: I should make sure I knew where everything was in my waist pack, because a minute is a precious thing and I don’t want to have to stop to pile everything back in. Into my waist pack, then, went the following:

A waterproof with taped seams and a hood
Waterproof trousers
A hat
A compass
A whistle
1 collapsible bottle of water with electrolytes added
2 small bottles of water with electrolytes added
A small tub of anti-chafing cream
In the right pocket, solid food: half a dozen marzipan balls made with nuts and chia seeds, and a few scrunched up balls of Soreen. A Snickers bar cut in half. A bag of jelly babies.
In the left pocket: four gels


I packed another bag with warm clothing to change into after the race, plus some chocolate milk, plus more chocolate. I bought a bottle of water and a bottle of coke, and put my race number on each, because each entrant is allowed to leave a bottle at both Ribblehead and Hill Inn checkpoints. I packed ear-plugs and eye-mask in case of loud cows or sheep. And we set off to t’Dales.

But first we had to fuel up. Once again, we stopped at Billy Bob’s Diner near Bolton Abbey, on the way to Skipton, and ate everything on the menu.


Then we stopped in Settle to see a wee cycle race. I’m not convinced that cycle races are the best spectator sport, even the Tour de Yorkshire, but the atmosphere was good, and I was given some Arla protein shakes (only one at first, then I said we were running the Three Peaks. “Oh, take three then.”) And Settle was in a very good mood, which was lovely:


The tour passed, all those cyclists with their mucky faces and amazing legs, and we set off to the B&B. But first, there would be chips. We stopped at a chip shop in Ingleton, then drove out half a mile to have our chips in the car, with a view of Ingleborough, glowering, magnificent and looking very snow-bound. At the B&B, our host Martin told us that he’d had plenty of Three Peaks walkers, but that we were the first runners. He sounded like running the Three Peaks was an odd thing to do. Perhaps it is. Apart from that, we had a quiet race preparation evening in which the most exciting thing to happen was FRB asking me if I wanted to let out my gas.

He meant making Coke flat. Both he and I were going to have a flat Coke at one checkpoint and electrolytes at the other. This is letting out gas in progress:


He also worried about where to put the packaging for the latex gloves he’d brought. Someone on FB had suggested taking some Marigolds just in case both pairs of gloves got sodden, and FRB had provided surgical gloves instead. He was worried about what Martin might think if he found an empty packet for latex gloves in the bin, though two runners about to run a fiendishly hard race are the least likely to be having kinky frolics the night before involving latex gloves. Still, we took the packaging away with us.

Then I read my friend Mary Roach’s book Grunt, about science’s efforts to make soldiers’ combat lives easier/safer/less deafening. I should have gone to sleep, but the chapters on maggots and stink bombs were way too interesting. Then, for the first time in my racing history, I slept well. Of course, I had a Three Peaks stress dream, in which Dave Woodhead of Woodentops was again a race director, and I was again late. But there were no stink bombs or maggots in it, which is a bonus.

We weren’t late. Even my chaos had been subdued by how big a thing this race was for me, and I was prepared and organised. I was surprisingly calm at breakfast, which consisted of tea and delicious pancakes with banana and honey. Perfect. We met another couple staying at the B&B, a man called Brian and his wife, who were both going to be marshalling. Then off we went to be at the race field in good time and spend about an hour and a half freaking out. Me, that is. FRB seemed calm. That’s because he knew what was coming, and because there was very little question of him not being able to meet the cut-offs, which was my biggest worry. Pen-y-Ghent was beautiful but snow-bound, and I got my number, dropped off my drinks for the checkpoints, then quietly started to panic. So I kept busy: going to get my kit, then queueing up for the portaloos. I met a woman in the queue who was philosophical: “If I get round, I get round, and if not, it’s a nice day out, so I’m not going to worry about it.” I tried to tell myself the same. Even if I didn’t get past Hill Inn, I would still have done a Two Peaks Race. But I wanted to do well. I wanted to get round. I wanted to surprise people. I wanted to beat the sodding menopause. I went to the race briefing and heard none of it, and had the first kit-check I’ve ever had at a fell race (they do happen, I just haven’t had one yet). Even so, it was bit cursory: FRA rules require waterproofs with taped seams and full waterproof trousers, but I just showed the Mountain Rescue man my pack, saying, that’s a waterproof, that’s trousers, there’s my hat. Then I went for a warm-up run around the field, and did some deep leg squats and bends, to open my hips and put less pressure on my knees. It worked, because afterwards my joints felt fine. I found a secret toilet, too. No, not a bush, but a toilet in a building at the far side of the race field. As the portaloo queue was about 60 people long (there were urinals too but men do get nervous, don’t they?), a toilet with one person waiting counted as a triumph.

I saw Ricky Lightfoot warming up too. For someone who runs on the fells so much, he looks very pale. I didn’t see Victoria Wilkinson, but I did see a few Nepalese. I thought, is a Gurkha running? But then later, running up Pen-y-Ghent, someone shouted “Well done Mira!” at a Nepalese woman descending at elite pace, and I realised it was Mira Rai, one of my running heroes.

Finally I was ready. I slathered my feet with anti-chafing cream. I had put my rainbow race socks on. I’d decided on a Helly layer under my vest, but shorts of course. Always shorts. My Roclites were going to have cope with any slush or mud. And it was time to line up at the start. I aimed for the back, so did FRB. Half of the runners were already wearing waterproofs, as rain was forecast, but I decided to wait for the water. Someone announced something, but I was too nervous to pay attention. Someone fired a gun, and off we went. Round the field, up onto the road, over two narrow winding bridges, along more road and then up onto a track that led to Pen-y-Ghent. Afterwards, FRB said, “did you see the amazing sight of all the runners in all the different colours, streaming up the road after the bridge?” No. I didn’t. I was so nervous by that point I wouldn’t have noticed a mastodon joining in. I was nervous about pacing. My pace band had times on, but actually it wasn’t a pace band because paces are pointless when you are climbing things like Pen-y-Ghent. There’s no way of knowing when you’ll have to walk, or when conditions will slow you. So I just resolved to run as best I could, and to take it steady. I was dreading the first part, as I usually really struggle in the first mile as my body adjusts – because I never warm up properly – but the warm up run and stretches had worked. The sun was shining, the fells were beautiful, and it was a lovely day to be out in the fresh air, running.

I did really well on Pen-y-Ghent, running further (that is, till the point where I started walking) than I’d done in the recce. I was definitely stronger. I’d taken beetroot the night before, and it felt like I’d done everything right for once. I was hydrated, I felt well fed, nothing was hurting. After about half an hour, the leaders started belting back down, having been up to the summit already. Like everyone around me, I applauded the first few but after that thought, sod that, I need to concentrate on my own run. I wasn’t running by that point, and though I managed a shuffle a bit higher up along a flattish bit of the climb, I didn’t run again until I’d got to the summit (in 50:23, on target), profusely thanked all the marshals, perfected my dibbing technique, and set off down. Lovely, lovely downhill. There was grass to run over, clear paths and trods to follow – one of the great advantages of being a middle or back of the pack runner – and it felt like fell running often feels: free and wonderful.

I passed Dave Woodhead at the bottom of the descent. He shouted, “keep up with that big group, Rose, you’ll be fine!” I shouted back, “yes, boss!” and promptly stopped and walked. I’d planned a fuelling strategy and was going to stick to it no matter what. At the bottom of the descent, the ground rises again steeply, and there are steps. That’s where I had decided to take a gel and some water, and that’s what I did. Sorry boss.

After that, there were three or so miles to the next checkpoint of High Birkwith, then another three or so miles to Ribblehead. There were no big climbs, but the route wasn’t flat either. I was supposed to get to High Birkwith in 35 minutes, but I thought I’d been slow and I was: 40.06. I was trying desperately to calculate everything using my pace band and watch, but I was beginning to get confused between the chronological time I was supposed to be at checkpoints and how long I was supposed to take. Was Ribblehead 2pm or 12.30pm and 2 hours? I no longer had any idea. So I just ran, as best I could. There was water at High Birkwith, and more cheery marshals. It’s a very very well organised race, mostly (see next paragraph), and the marshals are all superb.

I got to Ribblehead, my results print-out tells me, in 2:04. That gave me a leeway of six minutes. But I didn’t know that. All I was relying on was people around me musing out loud about what time we were doing. I stopped briefly at Ribblehead to get my drink and eat some marzipan and Soreen balls, the better to climb Whernside. Of the three peaks, everyone hates Whernside most, but I was looking forward to it. I’d enjoyed running it in training, and I thought I’d enjoy it again. We hadn’t run the race route in the recce, but FRB said that the route we ran – up a permissive path about 300 metres to the left of the race route – was harder. The race route though had a beck to get through. Some people may leap it, but I walked across it carefully. I didn’t want a daft injury if I could avoid it. Going hell for leather on a descent and getting injured is different: that’s unavoidable. Beyond the beck, through a short railway tunnel (I think: it’s a bit of a blur) there was a queue. About forty runners were waiting at what I thought was a stile. The marshal was Brian, who we’d met at breakfast, and he had clearly landed the worst marshalling job in the race. Because the race route ran through private land. The race organisers spent months negotiating with farmers for access, but something had gone wrong. The farmer had blocked a gap in the wall that was the access point (and that was his wall, though it gave on to publicly accessible land according to OS maps) with a pallet. It was nailed firmly in place. I don’t remember any of this, just the queue, and saying hello to Michael from Pudsey Pacers, who was just behind me. This was unexpected as I thought he was much faster than me. As the wait continued, and mounted up to 5 minutes, the muttering was gloomy. “We’ll never make it.” “They’ll have to make leeway at the cut-offs.” “This isn’t fair.” Etc. One bloke arrived and said, “I’m a runner, I have to get through” to which he got a chorus of WE’RE ALL RUNNERS. The FRA Facebook group and forum has been discussing The Pallet Scandal at great length ever since, including the fact that a man and a well known female veteran runner, who nobody wants to name but I am very very tempted to – her first name rhymes with a word that is a synonym for “flexible” – blatantly queue jumped, running to the front of the queue and going over.

That, quite simply, is cheating. If you arrive later than other runners, then overtake them as they wait, it’s cheating. If you jump over a wall or a field gate when there is a queue at a stile, that is cheating and against the Countryside Code. My club mate Randolph was in the queue when the woman cheater did her cheating, and he said that no-one said anything. Because she’s famous, as famous fell runners go? Or because she was a woman? I really hope I’d have said something. I think I would because I think that is disgraceful. Shame on you, woman whose name rhymes with a word that is a synonym for flexible.

I felt for Brian, who must have had to suffer much complaint and fury. I felt for the race organisers too: there’s no sense that this is a poorly organised race, so something unforeseen had clearly gone wrong. Some very charitable people said perhaps the farmer was well-meaning too, and wanted to make a secure stepping point by nailing the pallet in so firmly. Or perhaps he was making a point about all the runners who during training had ignored the fact of private land and run the race route anyway. As for adding time to the cut-offs, Brian didn’t have a radio, we were about to run into a fierce hailstorm, and after the race I learned that the race organisers were told of the stile delay only five minutes before the cut-off at Hill Inn.

But I had a bog to deal with first. I was definitely tired at this point, because I did something colossally stupid. Before the steep climb up Whernside there is a mile or two of boggy, difficult ground to cover. On the permissive path route I was used to, much of the slopes up to the climb are runnable. I thought these were far less runnable. And I must have decided to test the limits of runnability by not running at all. We reached a bog, and I saw that a runner was stuck in it up to his thighs, and yet I saw a patch of deep clear water and thought, that looks safe. And then both one foot then another sank deep into the bog and were stuck fast. I couldn’t move them. There were plenty of runners around me, so I shouted, “can someone get me out please?” but for a while – it was probably only a dozen seconds or so – no-one did, so I shouted it louder with desperation and hysteria. Michael from Pudsey Pacers and someone else reached in and hauled me out. When I say “haul,” I mean I was dragged out on my face. I have no idea how I emerged with both shoes still on my feet, especially as the one fault of my Roclites is that they are loose on the heels, but I did. I am profoundly grateful to Michael and the other runner for helping me: Thank you.

I was covered in mud up to my waist. I looked like I’d indulged in open defecation, but very inaccurately. But I picked myself up and carried on. I don’t really remember much of the climb, except that it started hailing. Hail. The forecast that I had obsessively checked had said rain. But this turned into a fierce hailstorm. It was so fierce, I started talking to it. “YOU MUST BE JOKING.” Around me, runners were saying, “we’ll never make it now.” “We’ve no chance.” But I thought, if I can get up the steep section OK, I can go at speed on the descent and make up a few minutes. That kept me going for a few hundred feet. And then I decided that what will be, will be. And then I got to the top, and I changed my mind again and tanked it.

I ran as fast as I could along the path, past walkers and more walkers. Once again, the Sikhs were doing their annual charity Vaisakhi walk, and lots of other people were doing the Three Peaks Challenge. I don’t mind walkers, even when I’m running, but I wish they’d keep control of their poles and their dogs. Until we got to the first steep part of the descent, I still thought my tanking plan would work. But then I saw that the path was fully taped, not just in parts, and that marshals weren’t letting anyone go off-piste, either to stop erosion or because with the covering of snow, it was bloody dangerous. We had to stick to the path, and the path was steep, narrow, filled with walkers, and treacherous. This meant that rather than making up time, I was constantly braking, which was loading my joints and knees. But at that point I was concentrating on getting past the walkers. I did a bum slide down one section, as it seemed the most sensible thing to do, and I already looked like I’d had an incontinent accident, so I may as well add to it. It was the one moment where I really really wished I was wearing Mudclaws, because they grip so well on slippy slidy mud. But even with Mudclaws, going off-piste was too dangerous. I came to one very narrow and winding part of the path, and to a group of walkers who had small dogs, both loose. I yelled at them, “please hold your dogs!” I like dogs and I like walkers, but to have dogs off the lead on that path with that many runners coming through seemed daft. We could easily have accidentally kicked or stamped them. But they were probably sick of runners by that point: about 700 must already have gone past them.

I survived the path, got to the bottom, where I knew there was about a mile and a half to go until Hill Inn. I’d long since stopped looking at my watch, but someone said, “we’ve got ten minutes,” and I started sprinting. It felt like sprinting. Later, I found it was nine minute miling. About 500 metres or so from Philbin farm, the place where I’d been patched up after falling on Whernside, a runner came up from the opposite direction. I remember he had grey hair and a nice face. I happened to be running with two other women at the time, and he decided to take us all on. “Come on ladies,” he said, “you can do it. But you need to push. PUSH.” He ran with us all the way to the checkpoint. It was bloody awful. I felt like my lungs were going to come out of my ears. I felt like crying. At one point I’m pretty sure I was crying and running. It was less than half a mile but it felt like so much more. I was panicking and running, panicking and crying, running and crying. As I approached the checkpoint, a man said, “ONE MORE MINUTE” and I had made it. I had made it by the skin of all my teeth.


I couldn’t believe it. I had a massive grin on my face which stayed there for the next mile. I realised that I had probably never really thought I’d make it. But now the pressure was off, and I could relax a bit. I told myself I didn’t care what time I finished it, though actually I did and wanted to beat FRB’s first Three Peaks time of 5:37. So I kept moving, to find my flat Coke, and I watched a man vomiting copiously near me, and I thought, god, I am tired. I was so, so tired. I must have hung around at the checkpoint for a couple of minutes, but finally I set off again. I saw my club mate Adam, covered in blood and mud. He’d fallen on Whernside. He’s much faster than me normally, and I thought it odd that he was still at the checkpoint, but doing the Three Peaks for the first time can catch everyone out. We set off walking up to the stile that led to the Ingleborough path. Over that, and then there was a mile or so of runnable fields.

Stuff that. I was walking. Adam ran off, and got back 15 minutes before me. But my inner thighs were cramping, which was bizarre, as I’ve never had running cramp before. And I was tired and still had two thousand or so feet to climb, and a difficult descent, and five more miles to run. But I still had that grin on my face. I’d made it. Even if I did it in six hours, I’d made it. And that kept me going. I ran a bit, walked a bit, ran a bit, walked a bit. I saw a sign saying that SportsSunday, sports photographers, were round the corner, so I picked my pace up, stuck a smile on my face, and was rewarded with first “that’s a cracker!” from the photographer, and this lovely photo:


See the state of my gloves? That was from the bog. But I was still wiping my nose with them. It was cold enough that I kept my waterproof on, and I knew it would get colder. Eventually I got to the foot of Ingleborough. It’s a rocky tricky technical climb up, and as I approached the start of the steep climb, I saw a line of runners snaking up and up and up. It looked so high. But actually it was fine. It was the last one. I got to the top in 56 minutes, almost exactly the same time as I’d done Whernside in (you’re supposed to do each peak in roughly the same time). Along the way I helped a walker who was slipping, and I think chatted to other people but now I can’t remember any of it. At the summit, I thanked the marshals loudly. It’s the longest marshalling stint: they can be up there for 7 or 8 hours, and it was COLD. There was snow everywhere. This film by my clubmate Adam Nodwell gives a very fine sense of the whole race.

But you know what? At the summit, THERE WAS NO MORE HILL TO CLIMB. Blessed, lovely descent. I set off, passing another runner who I turned to speak to, and saw that it was Dave Burdon of Pudsey Pacers. Dave is 60 and has run the Three Peaks eight times, I think. I knew he planned that this would be his last one. We decided to run together to the finish, and I’m so glad we did. That sounds so simple, doesn’t it? “Run to the finish.” But the last four and a half (or maybe five) miles to Horton are very difficult. Your legs are exhausted, but you can’t take your attention off the terrain for a second. There is the steep descent of Ingleborough, which starts off rocky then turns slushy and grassy with snow as well. If I’d been able to see the ground, I could have gone off-piste again, but there was no chance here. I wasn’t going to fall at this point. Dave was great to run with: he told me constantly what was coming up. “Flagstones, here, Rose, they’ll be slippery.” “Technical bit here, Rose.” I’m quite sure I’d have walked more if I’d been running on my own, but with Dave, we ran steadily, all the way back.

I almost forgot Colin. Coming off Ingleborough, or perhaps going up it, I passed a couple with a collie dog. They called the dog over and I said, “Colin?” “Yes,” they said. “Colin the collie.”

Of course.

There were rocks and gullies, and grass, and heather, and mud, and a checkpoint with water, that was very welcome. There was a moment where Dave had to stop because his legs were badly cramping, but he had one of my marzipan balls and recovered enough to run on. Magic marzipan. Later, I found out that Ben, another Pudsey Pacer, had collapsed at about this point, and had to sit down for five minutes while Mountain Rescue fed him chocolate. He said it was astonishing how soon after he’d eaten the chocolate that he felt better. You can’t run a race like the Three Peaks without knowing how your body works and what it needs. It’s too risky. But he got up and ran on and did a great time, so well done Ben and well done Mars Bars.

At about a mile from the finish, it seems like you are in a bucolic vision: there are green rolling hills, and you can see the village of Horton in the distance. Two Mountain Rescue people stood near a stile saying, “only two more hills!” and they were right, though they were more like inclines. But they felt like mountains. We got ourselves up them, over the field, over another field, under a railway bridge, through someone’s garden. I’d been warned about this bit, that there would be chickens. It’s probably a good thing because otherwise I’d have thought I was hallucinating. But the chicken coop was empty, probably emptied by all the thundered cleated feet. And then, holy cow, there was the finish line. A woman over the PA was presumably reading out the cute anecdotes that you put on your entry form. Mine was something about learning to run on a container ship and being good at swaying. But she could have been singing the national anthem and I wouldn’t have noticed at that point. All my attention was focused on the dibber. The final, beautiful dibber.

I got round in 5 hours and 24 minutes. I beat FRB’s first-year time. I couldn’t stop grinning. FRB had beaten his time by a minute, which in that weather counts as ten. He told me that for 20 minutes or so, he thought I hadn’t made it, because the screens in the marquee that track people’s times through checkpoints showed that my time at Hill Inn was 3 hours 30 and a few seconds. Until I got through Ingleborough and that went up on the board, he thought I hadn’t made it. He said he felt so despondent, then our fell-running friend Sharon – who was supposed to have run the Peaks, but unsurprisingly hadn’t quite recovered from running the 60 mile Fellsman in an amazing time two weeks before – ran up to him and said “Rose is through! She’s gone through Ingleborough!” And he was elated.


Dave Woodhead was in the finish area with his camera. He took pictures of me, then of me and Dave Burdon, then of Dave, then of I can’t remember who. He went off then called me over. I did as I was told, because you do what Dave Woodhead tells you, mostly. Then he called two other blokes over and made me stand between them. “Do you know who these men are?” he asked. I didn’t. But at that point I’d barely have recognised Mo Farah. Dave said, “this is Harry Walker, a fell running legend. He’s won the Peaks three times. He’s in Studmarks on the summits.” I said, sorry, I hadn’t read Studmarks but was he in Feet in the Clouds? The other man is John Calvert, who used to run cross-country for England, who has also won the Three Peaks and still holds his club’s 10 mile record, thirty years after he ran it. Anyway I love this picture, and I also love the fact that Harry, who was as puzzled as me as to why Dave was asking us to pose together (a rose between two thorns?), said, “were you first lady?” Yes! If you don’t count the other 677 runners (not sure how many women) who finished before me.


Marc Lauenstein, a dentist from Switzerland, came first, Ricky Lightfoot second. Victoria Wilkinson was first woman, Mira Rai came second. And I made it, and though I say this far too rarely, I am proud of myself. The Three Peaks is not just one of the toughest races I’ve ever run, but it’s one of the hardest challenges I’ve set myself. I’ve had a difficult and troublesome six months, with my mental health and menopausal symptoms, and yet I kept going, and I did it. I am deeply grateful to everyone who encouraged me along the way, and especially of course to FRB, who ran a brilliant race himself, and who has been unfailingly encouraging, supportive and wonderful through the last six months of hard training and hard health issues. Thank you, FRB.

So if you’re thinking about taking something on but you don’t think you can do it, you can, whether it’s going from running no miles to one, or from 13 to 26.2, or giving a speech, or writing the first paragraph of your book. You just can. See you in a field in Horton next year, or whatever your field consists of.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I’m off back to the fells.




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Stan Bradshaw

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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High Cup Nick, the return

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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