It's been a very long time since I last felt properly sick with nerves before a race. I could barely eat (there's a shocker!!). I managed a banana, half a lukewarm cup of tea and half a piece of flapjack.
I briefly chatted to Lizzie, and was filmed again by Summit Fever Media. They had interviewed me on Friday afternoon for their race coverage. But that was as sociable as I could manage and I basically hid until race start. I phoned the kids and they wished me luck. "Good running Mummy." I nearly cried. I hadn't felt like this before a race in a very long time. I was beyond nervous and just desperate for it to start, and to not start at the same time.
After some last minute faffing (as is the norm), I went out to the start. A quick hug with Lizzie and Jo and I manoeuvred myself close to the back of the field. Whilst the pre-race announcement was being made I drew into myself, catching for a breath. Calm. There was nothing to do now but move forward.
I dicked about with my Suunto as we set off, still unable to tell if it was started or not. I’m so ingrained in the Garmin world that I am still struggling to get used to the Suunto. It was a Christmas present, bought to use in the race, because when put into a hiking made it can last 100+ hours. Whilst the minute details wouldn’t be that accurate as least I would have a recording of my entire race, plus I could have a vague idea of what my distance was during the race. I also wore my Garmin 910XT as a watch so I knew the time of day. I could have worn a normal watch but none of mine have actual working batteries.
Whilst others set off at a run, I walked. Plenty of us were walking. There was a long way to go. But even at the strong walk I felt under pressure to go faster. My calves were burning from not being warmed up. I was conscious that the majority of the field was disappearing before my eyes but want to make sure that I kept calm and steady so that I didn’t sweat when tackling the first big climb up Jacob’s Ladder. The conservative start worked as I remained dry but the wind on the top was fierce and bitterly cold. I didn’t want to start off cold so I stopped to put my Montane Spine trousers on. I lost the large group in front of me but Patrica caught me up and we shared a mile or so of trail before she had to stop to put her jacket on as the wind was whipping up something fierce now.
Half a mile or so later one particularly strong gust of wind must have caught me off balance, lifted me clean off my feet and threw me down on the ground. After the initial shock I got up feeling my shoulder was sore but otherwise I seemed to be ok. It was slow progress due to primarily moving forward at a walk, but I was ticking off mini sections of the route, thinking back to my recces and trying to remember what was coming next.
As I walked and trotted along the paving stones towards Snake Pass (9 miles) I mistook a puddle for a full paving stone and went over on my ankle. Great! What was going to be next? I walked it off and wound my way along the endless paving stones. We were lucky so far with the weather, despite the wind, it was dry and visibility was pretty good.
I reached Snake Pass around the time I expected. I refilled with water from the MRT crew and went on my way. This was a section I wasn’t really looking forward to. I didn't particularly enjoy Bleaklow. It wasn't as bad as I'd remembered, and if I'm honest the ground was no worse than when I'd recced it with Jen back in August. I caught up with Steve and another runner (I never caught his name) and we made our way towards the summit. We caught up with some people who were out walking near the top just as Steve stubbed his toe. He seemed to be ok, and was with a group so as I was feeling the chill and wanting to get down away from the summit, I carried on down. It's a long way down to Torside and I wanted to get on with it. I picked up the path easily and made my way down towards Torside Clough.
This was another part that I had built up in my mind to be something terrible - the thought of what it could have been like if there had been snow and ice at this stage of the race. It could have been pretty hairy. But it wasn't. My shoulder was really starting to hurt now and I was starting to worry about it. The jolting descent was hurting my feet and already my quads were feeling the ache of being undertrained. I continued to walk, only running on the least technical parts. There is a slight feeling of exposure here (for those not comfortable with heights) and I felt a little light-headed in parts. On the final steepish descent towards the road crossing I saw Ellie and Matt from Summit Fever Media and thought I better put in a run, just in case they were filming. I heard the drone just as I wiped some major snotters from my face! Good grief I hope they weren't filming that bit! It reminded me of my Instagram feed - run for the camera, then walk as soon as you're out of shot. Ha!
As I arrived at the roadside the MRT were dishing out cups of tea. It was bliss. I took 2 paracetamol whilst here and ate some of my flapjack. There's a big old climb after Torside and I needed to be fuelled. There was a young guy sitting with some sort of shoulder issue. His right shoulder was hurting. I explained how my left one was hurting so at least we had two good ones between us, hoping my joviality would give him the impetus to continue. Steve arrived and shared his brownie and I set off just ahead of him. He caught up with me through the woods on the far side of the reservoir. I was grateful for the company. This was going to be a tough section with 2 rivers/streams to cross high up on the moors, and another one just before Wessenden. I'm rubbish with river crossings. Jen will tell you these aren't rivers, but if they are full, I'd say they were definitely rivers. Knowing racers in previous years have been swept downstream on the river crossings and pulled out of the race because of hypothermia, I had good reason to fret about them before the race. But much like on top of Kinder Scout, the water level was below where it had been on my recces. Bonus! It almost made up for the increasing pain in my shoulder. Almost.
Steve was great company and we were both looking forward to getting to Wessenden before the light faded. We made it. Steve stopped for a cup of coffee whilst I carried on down the path towards the next reservoirs. There's so many reservoirs! I lost track of all their names. As the light disappeared and before I turned on my headtorch I took a toilet break. It so much easier for men!! Seriously, there's nothing my aching quads love more than doing a mid-run squat whilst exposing myself to the cold night air. Gah!
I resisted turning my torch on for as long as possible, switching it on as I passed the second reservoir. I caught up with the runner in front. He was a little unsure of the turning here as you can easily be 'in the zone' trotting away down the nice track when you actually need to turn off and back on yourself to head down to the bridge. I found the turn easily enough and he followed me down, before then passing me again half way up the climb on the other side. He soon pulled away from me. I thought Steve would have caught me up my now, but it turns out that was the last time I was to have company for 10 hours of darkness until I reached the checkpoint at Hebden Bridge (45 miles).
As I passed along the reservoir on Black Moss, the air seemed momentarily impossibly still. The water glowed a beautiful golden colour reflecting the urban glow the towns away is the obscured distance. It was a moment of beauty. I stopped to take it in, remembering the fun day I had with Jen on this section, writing our names in the sandy beach at the northern end of the reservoir. I was trying to remain upbeat. Use the 'it could be worse' strategy. I thought to myself that I had done pretty well with this so far considering my shoulder and my twisted ankle. But now it was dark. I was alone. And the demons were coming to get me...