Friday, 26 January 2018

Montane Spine Challenger - Start with the step you don't want to take (9)

"Start with the step you don't want to take, he said. Move with a purpose that you won't forget. Meet yourself, when you leave those other dreams behind."

As I left Gargrave I was feeling better than I did when I arrived.  I was confident that my feet would hold out for some time with all that Sudocrem on.  It wasn't ideal but we'd made the best of a bad situation, and that's often what ultra-running is all about. Chin up, shoulders back.  OUCH!  No, no, no, definitely not shoulders back.  Put shoulder in least painful position whilst still moving forward.

I couldn't quite remember how long to stay on the road so I was constantly looking for the signpost to head into the fields.  I had struggled to get the right line across the first field during my recce in the daylight. Now, in the dark, I just didn't get the right feel at all for what I was doing.  I got out my GPS, I had out my compass and map, and I still managed to balls up my navigation! I found myself in the middle of a field, in the dark, in the p*ssing rain. I completely lost my bearings and couldn't even figure out from what direction I had come from. F*ckety f*ck f*ck!! I spent several minutes trying to sort myself out before deciding the easiest course of action was to phone home and ask my husband to check my tracker how far off course I had gone.  I should have been able to figure it out myself but I got myself in a bit of a tizzy and thought I just need a calm voice to tell me to get a grip and get back on course.

I got back on course and found the muddy gate. Navigation in the dark across the forthcoming fields was going to be tricky in the dark and my confidence was gone after messing up in the first field.  I relied a lot on my GPS, constantly checking I was going the right way.  I saw two head-torches ahead, and used them to help guide me in the second and third fields, before catching them up whilst they stopped behind a wall to get something from their bags.  I headed onwards willing the road to appear so that I could let my brain rest for a wee while.  It took longer than I remember. Everything takes longer in the dark.

I was glad to reach the road, and follow the path alongside the river, then hit the road again to start the diversion. When I had done this section on my recce everywhere was completely flooded and the river was in spate. It was probably my most hated section in my recce due to the conditions.  It was horrific. Blighted by these memories I was so relieved to get the email with the list of diversions a few days before the race.

I have no idea how long I was on the road for.  It's hard to judge distance when you're going so slowly, and in the dark.  Part way along the two runners I'd passed in the fields came past me again. They were MRT and asked how I was doing, then disappeared into the dark.  They were walking.  So I hate to think how slowly I was going as they disappeared really quickly.  I was starting to weave across the road, struggling to keep my eyes open.  I must have fallen asleep two or even three times as I walked along the road.  I knew I needed to stop and have a sleep but couldn't think of a good spot back on the race route round this area and knew I wasn't going to make it to Malham. As I walked through Airton I caught sight of an old red phone box on the side of the road.  Perfect! I opened the door, turned round and sat down on the concrete floor with my feet perched underneath the door.  I set the alarm on my phone for 15 minutes and leant back on my backpack and closed my eyes.

In an instant the alarm went off. I was still completely exhausted but knew I couldn't afford a longer catnap without compromising my body temperature, and I didn't want to resort to bivvying out.  At least not yet. I was feeling chilled but knew I could get warmed up once I got moving. It was straight-forward enough to get back to the Pennine Way but this section is tough to get right in the dark when you're so tired.  I didn't enjoy it on my recce either. Trying to find the least boggy/wet route across to the final field was a total pain in the arse.  I remembered if I went high then it would be the least wet so that's what I did, swearing with every step that I was never coming on the Pennine f*cking Way ever again!

Sticking to the riverside through the final field I finally made it to Hanlith Hall. If you see it in the daylight it looks like the kind of place that could be used in a period drama.  It's looks very 'Yorkshire.' The climb up the road was longer than I remember and then I was faced with more bl**dy fields to negotiate before I could find the path down to the river. Again the water level was lower than it had been during my recce and I didn't have to worry about the stone bridge being icy. One final soggy boggy mess before the footpath into Malham village.  It had been thronging with people last time I passed through, but now, in the middle of the night and pouring with rain, there wasn't a soul in sight as I made my way silently through the village.

I had loved this next section during my recce.  It had been my first visit to Malham Cove and it didn't not disappoint.  It is stunningly beautiful.  The gravel path from the top of the village to the cove was a delight to run on, and although the many, many steps up the side of the cove leading you up to the limestone pavement had been tough, they were totally worth the view from the top.  It was nothing short of spectacular.  But in the dark, the steps were just a slog.  And the limestone pavement was a death-trap! Bl**dy lethal! I kept trying to aim towards the back but somehow kept veering towards the edge! Multiple times I tried to find a way across. The rocks would just like ice in the rain - so slippery and just willing you to break you leg. It was crazy.

As I finally made it across I saw two more headtorches arriving on the other side of the limestone.  Clearly they too struggling to find the best way across in the dark as it took a very long time for their head-torches to appear behind me in the narrow valley of Ing Scar which the trail wound its way along.  The rock strewn valley was tougher than I remember with everything being so slippery. I was glad I had recced this part as it was easy for me to find the right route at the top of the rocky path/head of the valley and turned back on myself winding up into the next little valley between Comb Hill and Dean Moor Hill.

The further up the valley I went the heavier the rain became and the more the wind grew in strength.  As I made my way onto the open moorland at the top of the valley where the Pennine Way crosses the road I was met by a wall of wind. It was stronger than ever. As I made my way round the 'trail' that goes via the foot of the tarn I was getting battered by the wind and rain.  It was beyond awful and I was getting really, really cold, and really p*ssed off. I was desperate to get round Malham Tarn and get to checkpoint 1.5.  At least I could have 30 minutes of warmth in there.  I was seriously in a strop though. So cold, and battered and sore and wet and there was no bl**dy way I was going over Pen y Ghent in this weather.  I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of it.  It's blowing 50, 60 (?) mph at least and pouring with rain.  There's no way it could be safe to scramble up the top of PYG.  I didn't know what I would do if they said it was still the route. I was so worked up with everything - PYG, the cold, wind, rain, the tiredness, my f*cking shoulder and my wrecked feet, and my constantly throbbing hip that I must have looked like a horror show when Sarah opened the door to me at the mini checkpoint.  I'm sure they must see worse, but I've never felt so awful during a race.  I was done.

Inside was so lovely and warm I could have stayed all night, but I was very conscious of the time limit. In my dazed state the lovely volunteer race team and medic set about getting me sorted. The actual sequence of events is a little hazy. I know I was still trying to regain my brain function when Jim Mann arrived.  What the actual ***k?!? That was just bonkers!  It had literally taken him 24 hours less than me to get here (to 82ish miles)!  My mind was blown!  I know I was doing it the slow way but still. Anyway, I had to focus. I(we) changed my socks.  I(we) got the batteries changed in the GPS, I wanted fresh batteries to get me through the rest of the night - there was now point attempting to use a map in this weather. Sarah put some hot water in my freeze-dried chilli from my rucksack - it was surprisingly spicy and much needed. At some point in the literally 4 or 5 minutes that Jim was in the checkpoint we were informed of the Pen y Ghent diversion. Thank f*ck for that!!  What a relief.  I felt like maybe, if I could just get going again I could actually finish this race now that I didn't have the PYG fear.

The medic took me into the toilet - not so warm in there - and we managed to get my tops off between us so she could examine my shoulder.  Oh my god it was in a bad way.  The advice was the same as at Hebden. 'Are you really sure you want to continue? The best thing would be to stop.  It doesn't seem to be a bone injury but we can't be certain without an X-ray. You're not at the point where we would make you stop so the decision is up to you but our advise is...' I fought back the tears. I knew the sensible thing was to stop, but I'd gotten so far, fought through so much pain and so through so many mental battles to get here. There was potentially no more than 15 hours left of the race - that sounds utterly mental when you say it - but it seemed small-fry in the bigger race picture. I was so close.

I decided I would continue.  I wasn't going down without a fight.  Although I couldn't get my tops back on myself! Whilst I set about getting myself organised to head back out with the extensive help from Sarah, Nick and the rest of the crew Eoin Keith came in. Wow! These athletes! Incredible. Just shortly before I was about to set off out, one of the guys from Lothersdale appeared at the door. He looked remarkably dry and clean. He said he had decided to pull out.  I don't know if he carried on or not. Hopefully he managed to.

So once I was fed and warm, and somebody helped me get my backpack on, Sarah took my photo and I headed back out into the wind and rain at the same time as Eion. He was gone before I could blink. Two blinks later and I was as cold and wet as I had been when I went into the mini checkpoint. It was going to be a long time until dawn...

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