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.


screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-11-50-00

 

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.

 

minionsm-cr2

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.

14502877_10153703724657924_478968263221393854_n

 

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:

img_8944

 

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.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-10-07-21img_8938

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:

dscn4400

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. 

img_8682

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.
img_8685
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:
dsc_0973
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?).
img_8627
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.
14344724_10154657811174994_5036739530851304430_n
Past the first entrance, to the second entrance, down the steps, along the passageway, to the main entrance and
THE END.
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.

 

Beamsley Beacon

It turns out that going to India for three weeks, then coming back and doing the Wharfedale Half Marathon, then going on a cruise for two weeks, is not good for maintaining hill legs. I had a great time on the cruise (I was accompanying my mother), and tried to keep as fit as possible. I twice ran five miles around the deck, even though the jogging track was only a tenth of a mile long. That’s over 50 times, people. I plotted to run ashore in Santorini, inspired by this post by Laura, but was foiled by the fact that the ship was anchored off-shore, people on booked excursions had priority in the tenders ferrying them ashore, and they weren’t going to the right place anyway. By the time any tenders were going to Fira, from where I was planning to run six miles to the end of the island and back again, it was 9.30 and 35 degrees. No way. I went to run around the jogging track instead, consoling myself that the views weren’t too shabby:

13435349_10209158460179336_353738756993446122_n

A very thin couple in their sixties, dressed in running kit, were up on the jogging track deck too, gazing at the island. I stopped to talk to them. He was Swiss, she was Dutch, and they wanted to run up the mountain. This mountain:

FIRA-SANTORIN

Even I wasn’t planning to do that. “It’s ridiculous,” the man said. “They give priority to fat people on tours, and fit people can’t do anything.” He was going to go anyway, once the tenders started. I didn’t see them again, so I hope they weren’t vaporized by the heat.

I also swam a lot, and did a few of the yoga and Pilates classes on the ship. They were held here, which is probably the nicest yoga studio I’ve ever done a class in:

13466359_10209178685484956_2195362337625870315_n

But of course, this was a luxury cruise. Even if I ate lots of salads and fresh food, and even if we drove around beautiful Greek islands and stopped in village tavernas and ate wonderful feta and salad and bread and amazing olive oil, I also drank wine and ate all the desserts. There was a lot of this:

13415685_10209126915350735_1247290268863041746_o

I got back on Tuesday, and on Wednesday did the Beamsley Beacon fell race. It’s a straight up and down, or supposed to be, departing from Addingham near Ilkley. I didn’t feel like I was in great form, not least as I’d forgotten to take my anti-depressants for a couple of days, and my mood was pretty fragile. But I went anyway, and we paid £5 for entry, in the race HQ (the pool room in a pub). The start was a milling in the street outside, we were going up, up and up, and then down. The route up would be clear, but the route back was self-navigated. Note that part.

There were 120 or so runners, and as soon as we set off, I thought, oh, this is going to be very hard. I’m going to be in the last dozen, and the way my legs felt, I could easily be in the back half of that dozen. It was a beautiful evening, but my legs felt leaden and slow. I walked half of the uphill, which I’d never have done at Three Peaks fitness. I wasn’t enjoying it, and for the first couple of miles seriously considered a DNF. But my pride stopped me: I’ve never done a DNF and wasn’t it better to run and come last rather than DNF?

I reached the top, touched the trig point, and set off after the man in front of me. I had no idea of the route down, just that I shouldn’t go back down the way I came, as that was longer. “You’ll have people to follow,” said FRB, because he didn’t realise how much fitness I’d lost, and how far back I would be. In fact, I could only see the one man in front, and put blind faith in him knowing the route. Mistake. After a while, we found ourselves running through a field at the bottom of someone’s garden. It was more of an estate, and the house was stunning, as I told the owner when he came out and told us, kindly, that we’d gone wrong and that we needed to go through the farm. So, reverse and through the farm. By this time a woman I’d been running behind and then in front of and then behind again, who ran with a really odd shuffle which was a lot faster than it looked, had joined me. So she was there when a blond woman came out of a driveway and started yelling at us. Really yelling. She was almost spitting with fury. This is what she said:

YOU BLOODY RUNNERS. LAST YEAR YOU SCARED MY COWS AND THEY WERE IN CALF AND ONE OF THEM LOST A CALF AND THE RACE ORGANIZER SAID THERE WAS NO MONEY AND NO INSURANCE. YOU DO THIS EVERY YEAR, YOU COME THROUGH HERE AND DISTURB THEM. BLOODY RUNNERS. HOW DARE YOU, WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF THE DAMAGE YOU CAUSE, YOU’RE A DISGRACE etc

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say. The shuffling woman said, in broad Yorkshire, “I’m so sorry, oh that’s terrible, I’m very sorry,” to which the farmer replied:

YOU’RE SORRY? WHAT GOOD DOES THAT DO ME? EVERY YEAR WE HAVE THIS AND EVERY YEAR YOU BLOODY RUNNERS. IT’S ALL VERY WELL BEING SORRY BUT WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

Etc. I was trying to be calm with her too, as she obviously had legitimate grounds to be angry, if the race organizer hadn’t compensated her for the lost calf. But she just kept yelling and finally I lost my temper too, said, “What can we do about it?” then “take a bloody chill pill” (I wasn’t feeling articulate by that point) and ran off in dudgeon, then had to look stupid because I’d gone wrong again and had to run back to face her again. Finally we found the right route, and I realised I’d lost about six places, and was last. I couldn’t do much about that, as by being last I had to close all the gates, which lost me more time. I was upset – being yelled at had really thrown me – and weepy, and then we had to run through an extremely narrow, overgrown snicket, where you couldn’t see your feet. I hated it. That’s how I knew something was wrong with my hormones, because normally I’d have loved it.

Finally at one gate, the man I’d followed down mistakenly (who apologised for going wrong), offered to close the gate instead, and didn’t catch me up. With a better level of fitness, I’d have taken a couple of places, but I had no energy, I hated the race and wanted it to be over. It was, eventually, and I was second last, and I was furious and almost crying, so I headed straight for the pub toilets, then went to the car, hoping not to see anyone. But FRB followed me – he had seen my face as I ran to the finish and was worried – and tried to talk to me, before he understood that what I needed was to sit in the car and cry. So I did, and I calmed down, then joined people for the prize-giving, at which I learned that Joe Baxter of Pudsey and Bramley had been winning by a good margin, before he went colossally wrong too, and came fifth or sixth. The Beacon gets us all.

I didn’t much feel like running after that. Both the experience of running the race, and the fact that I hadn’t enjoyed it, were a shock. But on the Saturday I made myself get up and do Parkrun. I didn’t take a watch, and I just ran, and enjoyed it, and did a decent time (25:55). And on Sunday FRB and I went up to the moors around Ilkley and ran 12 miles through heather and past rocks and past runners racing the Bradford Millennium Way, and I wasn’t fast, but I loved running again. Now, back to training.

13529176_10209243581027304_4945572440518418476_n

Getting the runs in (in) Delhi

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

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

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

images

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

IMG_7596

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

13178889_10208891359661990_399096433776117187_n

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

IMG_7573

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

IMG_7599

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

IMG_7593

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

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).

Training
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.

Friday
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.

DSC_0222

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
Gloves
Mittens
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

IMG_7424

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.

IMG_7433

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:

IMG_7469

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:

IMG_7474

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.

Saturday
Pen-y-Ghent
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.

Whernside
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.

IMG_7482

Ingleborough
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:

13133092_10208811201458085_4233422910466625611_n

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.

13138976_10208806314495914_4806244999978864795_n

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.

13124882_10208825672019840_3230988655335065619_n

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.

Spen

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:

WP_20160313_13_01_03_Pro

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.

rosegeorge3_2016-Mar-13

 

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 13.21.45

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 13.21.52

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:

12805716_10208285769362611_8542694281309524878_n

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:

12512470_10208285769082604_3142011811248496453_n

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:

12814624_10208285770362636_6203910778198810751_n

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 11.22.18

Brutal

I’m stubborn. If someone thinks I’ll struggle to do something, then I will work harder to prove them wrong. I know that some people – good friends who I respect – think I’ll struggle to meet the cut-offs for the Three Peaks. And I know they are right, for now. But by the time April 30 comes around, I am determined they will be wrong. So even though I’ve been struggling with awful menopausal mood lows, I’m still training. Like yesterday: it was awful. I couldn’t function. I couldn’t think straight. I wanted to weep. I knew the depression was caused by my hormones, because I recognise that kind. I’ve had practice. But even so, I left my studio at 2pm and started running. It wasn’t scenic, as I was running up Meanwood Road, a road that is as grim as Meanwood woods are lovely. My training programme required me to do long hills, namely two slogs up Stonegate Road, another road that’s part of the Leeds half marathon route, a race I have never done and am still not tempted to do. By running from my studio (uphill) rather than from home (downhill), I’d added another long hill. I kept going, through Meanwood, past Waitrose, up and up. A man in a woolly hat turned round when he heard me coming and said, “it’s tough this hill. Go steady!” I thanked him and carried on going steady, up and up, until I could turn and run downhill again, through children leaving school, and oblivious parents. I had my usual thoughts of, I wonder what these burqa-clad women think of me in running tights, but then I was past them and who cares anyway.

My plan didn’t require me to go all the way to the bottom of the hill, namely the steep section on which I’ve watched plenty of Leeds half runners struggle and swear. But I did, and I ran whatever mileage it was, all the way to the top. Then, for good luck, and because I felt good, I ran up an even steeper hill on my way home. I was proud of myself, because I’d felt so bad, and now I felt slightly less bad.

I was proud of myself at the weekend too, when I did Ilkley Moor fell race. I hadn’t really given much thought to this, beyond thinking that it was short and not too steep. I didn’t account for the weather and the deviousness of the route planners. The day before, the Met Office told me it would be raining constantly. I don’t mind that. But that there would be gusts of 57mph too. Oh.

FRB wasn’t racing but was going to do his own training run on the moor. He set off, and I sat in the car watching the rain falling and the trees bending. Even so, it was mild and I ran in a long-sleeve top and vest. For the first mile, I thought: this is easy. A stupid and fatalistic thing to think, because then we climbed to the tops. And I nearly fell over. I’ve never been blown off a path before, but I was (thank you to the runner who pulled me back). The wind was brutally strong. It was hard to run through, but I did my best. I’d been given instructions by FRB to keep his team-mate Andrew in sight, which isn’t difficult as Andrew is 6 and a half feet tall and wears a bandana. I did, then overtook him about halfway round, on a descent. People were nervously picking their way down, but I don’t do that. I activate the inner six-year-old who fell out of trees and ran away and was energetic and fearless, and off I go. Of course I fell a few times. My shin hit a rock and hurt, but I carried on, because you do. But FRB popped up a couple of times to cheer me on (and everyone else: he’s a very good supporter). As for the deviousness of the route: it was designed to have as many climbs as possible. Every time I thought we were descending for good, we were going up again.

I finished, in 72 minutes something (I thought it was 73.01 but the official results gave me a few milliseconds more), and thought, those are some of the hardest conditions I’ve ever run in. And they were. A fellow fell-runner commented later that he didn’t think it was brutal, just “testing.” He wasn’t being critical, just pointing out that hard races are the valuable ones. The hard races are what will get me up those peaks.

Here I am realising that 1. it’s over and 2. Soon I will be having hot tea.

12742344_10208190081130465_4362229268099726355_n

Rombalds Stride: The Return

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

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

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

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

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

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

See. Dreams do come true.

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

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

cropped-RS1_0138-2.jpg

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

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

IMG_6971

IMG_6968

IMG_6948

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

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

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

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

IMG_6960

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

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

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

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

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

4.15!!!

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

Eh?

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

119460-117532

Oh.

Yes.

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

IMG_6956

 

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 15.28.47

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

Screen Shot 2016-02-15 at 15.31.26

 

 

Fear

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

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

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

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

WP_20160117_11_07_39_Pro

 

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

IMG_6827

 

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

IMG_6831

 

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

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