It was still dark as I rejoined the Pennine Way. I headed up the hill, met the gate where the path headed onto Heptonstall Moor. I tried to go through the gate. It wasn't for moving. The sign to pull the leaver up. I did. I pulled that bloody leaver in every direction but the ruddy thing would not open. Stupid bloody useless excuse for a gate. There was nothing else for it. No amount of swearing at it convinced the gate to open so I had to climb over. Easier said than done with a 9kg backpack. Don't think I've mentioned how heavy my bag was yet have I? Ha.
I quite like Heptonstall. Yes, it's another soggy, somewhat boggy moor, but it's really not got too many challenges for you so you can get a few miles done without too much drama. When you're a bit of a race drama queen like myself, it's good to have a wee break. But still, I continued to be alone. Even when the distant reservoirs appeared across the valley in the dusky morning light I could still not see any headtorches in front or behind me. This was proving to be a very lonely race. I had expected to spend long stretches by myself, but not quite as much as I did.
Even though daylight was coming it felt much colder than Saturday. There was a definite chill in the air. It was frustrating to not be able to run more than a few steps along the road towards the Walshaw reservoirs, and then again alongside them. The path is so runnable at this point. As I was walking alongside Middle Walshaw Reservoir a grouse that had been very vocal about my presence, flew across onto the path and started pecking at my feet and squawking noisily at me, trying to chase me away. What the hell? Crazy bird! I couldn't feel a thing but it was the oddest thing. It was clearly not happy about me being there and I'm not sure who was more annoyed at my slow forward progress - me or the crazy bird.
After the bird and I finally parted ways I started the climb up onto Withins Height and then down towards Top Withins (of Bronte fame). It had been pouring with rain on my recce but today it was dry but as the wind increased the temperature was dropping. I knew I could get a phone signal on the top here so I phoned home again to speak to Paul and the kids. Daniel wasn't interested but apparently Annabel had been up since silly o'clock (no surprise there) watching my dot. She was glued to the race all weekend. She's her mummy's biggest fan. Round about this time, unbeknownst to me, the race was being won in a new course record!! Good job I didn't know as that would have been really demoralizing. That time is just mind-blowing!
I couldn't wait to get down to lower ground. I couldn't believe how cold I felt. Despite the phone call I was feeling pretty low. I knew what was coming. I even broke into a bit of a run on the descent. I was desperate for some shelter to try and warm up. I remembered somebody had said there would be a local café doing some food down at Ponden reservoir, so I focused on getting down as fast as I could. In a sheltered spot just before reaching the reservoir I decided enough was enough and it was time to get my prism jacket and bigger gloves on. Even the balaclava came out. I could smell smoke; it smelled like campfire smoke. I thought it must be the café, but by the time I reached the road the only sign of any activity was a few glowing embers from some sort of fire. Any people or food were long gone. It was disappointing. I had hoped to get fuelled up for the big slog that awaited me. I had to settle for a double twix and a packet of salt and vinegar crinkles.
Another b*tch of a stile led to the short steep climb up to Crag Bottom. My achilles started playing up again. Perfect timing. Not. You've heard the saying 'the darkest hour is just before the dawn' but I can assure you this is incorrect. The darkest hour is the hour (or more) you spend crossing Ickornshaw Moor. It's beyond grim. It's the devils bog. Even though we'd had it relatively dry this section is just pure misery. My feet should have been dry. But it seems the Ickornshaw proved to be the final straw in the waterproofness of my socks. B*gger. I still had close to 60 miles left and I was out of waterproof protection for my feet. And with the wet, the taping and mesh started coming loose on my feet. Just great. Just what I needed.
The route down of Ickornshaw is the grimmest level of grim. It's a complete joke. I've never sworn so much in my life as I did coming down off there. A national trail? Really? The wind was bitterly cold and I just wanted off. Soon I arrived at the diversion. Some race volunteers were just re-attaching the diversion sign again. The diversion added a fair bit of distance to the trail (like all the diversions for the race - meaning we covered 110-113 miles rather than the original 108 miles). It was here the James and Jeff first came passed me. We were to bump into each a few times over the coming hours.
On arriving at the village of Cowling I decided this would be a sensible time to stop and sort out my feet. I stopped on a rickety old wooden bench, which momentarily felt like it wouldn't hold the weight of both me and my backpack. One foot at a time I removed the wet sock and surveyed the damage. I tried adding a bit of the cream I had brought but it had turned solid and I couldn't get it to spread! That won't be in my blister kit anymore! Off with the taping and on with the next pair of dry socks. They wouldn't be dry for long but at least my feet would get a brief respite. As I was packing up to leave another runner sat down to have a rest. Like James and Jeff I would to-and-fro with him until darkness fell.
Feet sorted, sort of, and I was off. This section is quite nice. Some lovely farmland. Up and down, up and down. The fast-slowing stream of my recce was easy to jump across with less water in the back in October. Happy Vicky. But the field that followed was although not deep, it was waterlogged so that was the end of my dry feet. Soon I was making my down towards Lothersdale, a beautiful little village tucked away in a small valley. We had been told that the Hare and Hounds pub would be open to Spine racers where at the very least there would be bottles of water for us. I reached the pub to be greeted by gem of a lady. I wasn't going to go inside and said I would just grab a burger and head up the hill. Thankfully the lovely lady convinced me to go inside where she served me up a huge cheeseburger with onions and a wonderful cup of tea. They had put old curtains on the floor and plastic covers on the chairs to protect them from Spine mud. The hospitality was wonderful. An absolute joy. Other punters were fascinated by what we were up to and they were all watching the race (dot watching) on the big screen. I cannot thank them enough for the kind hospitality they showed us. I sat chatting to James and Jeff and 'the other guy' (I'm really sorry I can't remember your name) until we were all fed and watered and all warmed up. Another round of paracetamol and I followed the guys out of the pub.
I tried to keep up with the guys but it was a bit of a losing battle. I kept in touch or in sight of them as we climbed up over Eslack Moor (the last moor for a while) and down the boggy midden towards Brown House Farm. My only memory of the farm from the recce is the massive cow sh*t bog you have to wade through as you approach the farm. Luckily, being a dairy farm, the cows had been in for a while so the ground was much better than it had been on my recce. Lots of sticky mud, but no cow sh*t. Winner.
As we headed along the road, we started together but the guys all soon moved ahead. With light fading fast we all got out our headtorches. By the time I reached Thorton in Craven it was dark and I was on my own again. There was another diversion after the village that I didn't recall from the briefing. I thought, great, I don't have to navigate across those soggy fields. I was wrong, we were just going through some different muddy fields before re-joining the Pennine Way in the middle of some more muddy fields. It was tricky at first but once I got my bearings it was fairly straight forward, sticky muddy progress towards the canal path.
I followed the path along the canal and then the short bit of road before you turn off through some horsey fields. Well, those horses must have known we were coming. The ground was completely churned up. It reminded me of when Round Rotherham used to be held in December and you would have to try and run through ploughed fields. You would leave the field with half of it stuck to your feet!
One more wet field and then it was onto the next diversion. The diversion was clearly marked and had been extensively covered in the pre-race emails, gpx files and race briefing. But apparently people still managed to not take the diversion. Can't think why. Yes the diversion was all on tarmac and deathly boring but way easier to navigate than those fields would be in the dark. Perhaps then had gone across in daylight. Who knows. I digress.
That road was pretty dull and seemed to never end. My feet were feeling really tender especially as they had been so wet for so long now. I was really worried about them and hoped there might be medics to help at Gargrave... if I ever got there. Each time I reached a junction there was another road to go down. FFS!
Eventually I reached Gargrave. I only had a couple of approximate time goals for the race - only made with the goal of a 60 hour race. If I got to Gargrave for 8pm then my timings should still be ok for a finish. I made it roughly around 8ish(?). As I arrived I saw a van (not a railway one this time - it had a Spine sticker on!) I wobbled my way across and asked if there were any medics only to find out that they had just been called out to an incident. Allan Rumbles was needing to take a runner who had pulled out, onwards up to the next town (Horton) and was trying to sort out a few runners who were currently in the area. He told me to go and get some food from the Co-op and then he would do what he could with my feet before he headed off up the road.
So I sat on the opening of the van whilst he covered my feet in Sudocrem. He said that the feet were still in a remarkably good state considering how long they'd been wet. Hopefully the Sudocrem would help hold them together until the end. We decided I should save my last pair of dry socks for Malham, so once my foot looked like it was made of royal icing my wet sock (oh so cold!) went back on and shoes tied tightly. Whilst in the shelter of the side of the van I put on my final layer, ate my pasty and was sent on my way with a warning about the incoming weather.
As I headed up the road out of Gargrave the rain began.