DON'T FOOL YOURSELF
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.
|Climbing up Kinder Scout|
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...
THE NIGHT SHIFT
For those not accustomed to racing through the night, being alone in the darkness brings with it a whole new set of challenges. I've only raced a handful through the night before (except for track 24 hour races which are completely different). Once was the West Highland Way Race where you set off at 1am and have maybe 3-4 hours of darkness to run in, but you are surrounded by people the whole time, then if you are running into the second night you will normally have at least one support runner with you. Another time, was at the Lakeland 100. I won't sugar-coat it, I had a total meltdown during the first night of the Lakeland 100. I threw all the toys out of the pram and was determined to pull out. The second night wasn't as bad, but it wasn't a positive experience either.
The difference between those races and the Spine Challenger is the length of time spent in the dark, and the solitude. I knew the dark was going to be one of my big obstacles during the race so I had spent many training runs and walks in the dark in preparation. But when you're in unfamiliar territory it's always going to be tough. I was constantly repeating positive mantras to myself and visualising the route as if it was still daylight and again thinking it could be worse...
I had a cup of tea at Harrop Dale as I walked up from the road. I thought back to my recce with Jen and making fun videos for her training vlog. Along Standedge and across White Hill I was trying to remain upbeat but the pain in my shoulder had become unbearable. I knew there was something seriously wrong with it and I was really starting to worry about my race. I started stopping to bend over to relieve the pressure on my shoulder, and for that brief moment I felt some relief. But as soon as I stood up the pain was back again.
The sight of the burger van at the carpark just before the M62 was a thing of beauty. I wasn't entirely sure it was real until I was maybe 100 metres away from the road. It was a relief. I ordered a burger and a cup of tea. Oh, it was just what I needed. So warm and comforting. I hoped this was the pick-me-up I needed to get me across the rocky mess that is Blackstone Edge and then onto the White House. But no, I found a new low crossing Blackstone and by the time I made my approach to the White House and the MRT/SST(?) I was in a bit of a state. I could barely get my backpack off so that I could get some paracetamol out of my medical kit. The volunteers were super helpful filling my water bottle, giving me a cup of tea and a couple of custard creams (tea and biscuits make everything better!) and then helped me get my backpack back on. They advised to see the medics once I got to Hebden. I thanked them and headed off up the road, being cheered on by some people standing outside the pub.
Despite their help, and that brief moment of human contact, as soon as I was back out on the trail again, consumed by the darkness, the pain and the solitude I felt myself falling into the depths of mental darkness again. The track was easy enough along to the next diversion, but I was in no mood for tramping through more boggy muddy mess round Warland Reservoir. Stupid f*cking @sshole of an excuse for a trail! Stupid f*cking bogs! Where was everybody? Was I so far back that there was literally nobody else left on the trail? I could Have sworn I left the burger van before some other people. I wasn't going fast, I don't think I could have been going any slower! Why weren't they catching me? FFS!
I wound my way endlessly towards Stoodley Pike. It seemed to take forever. Walking was unbearably and depressingly slow, especially when there were so many miles ahead and they were just not passing at all. As I headed downhill away from Stoodley I caught a glimpse of a headtorch behind me. Oh great, now you catch up with me, just as we are coming off the moors! Great help that is!
But for whatever reason they didn't catch up. Catch up, don't catch up, just stop flickering in my peripheral vision and using me to navigate!! (Obviously they weren't using me to navigate as this part is easy to follow.) Argh! I was having a serious sense of humour failure as I descended into Charlestown. In fact I was being a real idiot. As I crossed the road and went to take the turning up the stupidly steep path under the railway and up the hill, I saw a man in a van reading a clipboard. F*cking delirious idiot that I am, knocked on the window (bearing in mind this is sometime after midnight!) and asked him if he was with the Spine Race and did he need my race number? "The race love?" came the reply, "No, I'm with the railway." I mean, what the hell was I thinking?! Clearly I wasn't. As I climbed up the hill I was berating myself for being such an idiot whilst simultaneously trying not to burst my achilles which was being an absolute b*tch. It's one thing to have a busted shoulder, I was making forward progress (slowly) with that, but a busted achilles would end my race on the spot.
I slipped and slid across the farm fields over the next hill, then down that stupidly narrow path towards the river. I mean, what is that all about? It's the Pennine Way. People are going to be wearing rucksacks and yet they make these crazy style/stone hole things that you can barely fit through with a running pack, never mind a 9kg f*ckin mountain on your back! On the bright side, at least the stone bridge wasn't frozen and I didn't have to worry about falling in the river. The Pennine Way gives and then takes away - constant up and down - an emotional rollercoaster.
Soon I hit the road where the race deviates from the PW and heads down the mud luge to the checkpoint. I phoned Paul as I knew I had signal here, even though I knew he'd be asleep. I left a message to let him know my plan for the checkpoint so that he wouldn't worry. Initially I had thought I'd be in and out within about 90 minutes but I told him I was going to change and eat and then see the medics. I said there is a likelihood I would be in there for several hours. Then I said goodnight and headed down to the Hebden Hey 45 mile check point. If I am completely honest, I wasn't entirely sure I would be coming back out.
HEBDEN HEY CHECKPOINT (45 MILES)
I was somewhat dazed as I arrived down at the scout hut, not really knowing what to expect and frankly needing a little help. After attempting to clean my shoes and waterproof trousers in the water tub I went inside and took off my shoes, and waterproof trousers and left my poles in a heap and followed the kind man through who was carrying my drop-bag. There was no way I could carry it myself. I went into the bathroom to change and clean myself up after informing the CP staff that I needed to see the medics. I said I would eat first. I took my time changing my tops and changed out of my first pair of long waterproof socks which had served me well so far. Apart from being sore from the pounding they didn't feel like I'd done too much other damage to them. Here I made my only mistake of the race - I should have swapped to my second pair of long waterproof socks but for some inexplicable reason I switched to the short ones and didn't even put the long ones into my backpack. I was going to pay for that later.
After I repacked my bag, got myself dresses and repacked my drop-bag I headed for some food. This was where I met my Hebden angel Olivia. She was a complete blessing, getting me some food, checking on my drop-bag, making sure the medics knew I was on my way, making me a cup of tea, trying to get me to eat more food and then sending me up to the medics.
The Exile Medics were brilliant with me, assessing my shoulder to make sure I didn't have any broken bones and had a quick look at my feet, finding a massive black bruise on my right achilles. Then I got a massage from the lovely lady from the sports massage company (that I just cannot remember the name of, maybe North Lakes or something - she was from Penrith). She massaged both legs focusing on releasing my calf (and try and stop my achilles tendon from destroying my race) and worked on my shoulder. Once she was finished, I went back to the medics and I had a couple of tiny blisters burst, webbing and tape put on. My emotions almost got the better of me when the doctor advised me that the best thing for my shoulder was to rest it, i.e. pull out of the race and o to A&E for a precautionary x-ray. I was utterly exhausted and felt beaten. They advised a short sleep at the very least. I hadn't planned on sleeping here. But considering I had had between 2 and 4 hours sleep every night for the previous week since my daughter's surgery, I knew it was the only thing to do at that point. The lovely Olivia brought all my things upstairs that I would need and I somehow managed to climb onto a top bunk using a stool in a room full of snoring men. I set the alarm on my phone for 30 minutes, tucked it inside my buff so it was right beside my ear and tried to fall asleep.
Two whole seconds later my alarm went off and my mind was made up. I wasn't giving up this easy. So I crept out of the room of cosy and comfortable snoring men and started sorting myself out to head back onto the trail. I got some more help with my bags and headed back to the dining room for more food. Only an hour and a half since the chicken and rice, I wasn't particularly hungry but forced down a bowl of porridge as I knew I needed fuel - there was still 65 miles to cover. Oliva sorted me out with tea as well and refilled my bottles for me. She was an angel - just the right amount of sympathy and 'kick-up-the-bum' I needed. I was so grateful for her help I gave her massive hug, was guided outside by another volunteer and was guided back to the start of the path up the mud luge. I left the checkpoint at 5:40am, 3.5 hours after arriving.
I made my way back up the hill. It was easier than coming down - less chance of slipping and falling on my backside. But just as I was approaching the top of the path, I heard a shout from behind. Turning I saw the volunteer who had guided me out of the scout hut. He shouted to me asking if I was Vicky and if I was ok? I said, yeah, I was as well as could be expected. It turns out that when I had hugged Olivia we had accidently set off my tracker SOS so my wee alarm was going off at race HQ and the poor guy had been sent to chase me down and check I was ok!! Oops. Luckily I was allowed to continue.
I tramped my way back up the road. The night air was cold. There was a strong breeze. It certainly felt colder than when I had gone into the checkpoint. Soon I was reaching the turning back onto the Pennine Way.
WHO RESTS ON A SUNDAY ANYWAY?
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.
START WITH THE STEP YOU DON'T WANT TO TAKE...
"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." (Indoor Garden Party)
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...
SENDING OUT AN S.O.S.
The rain was lashing down, but along the sheltered road I at least had a break from the wind. My feet, in my final dry pair of socks, remained dry along the road but the moment I was back on the trail a few minutes later they were soaked again. The grassy track along the bottom of the valley was waterlogged. I knew the navigation was fairly straight forward along here but I decided to keep my GPS out because the visibility (on top of the darkness) was deteriorating.
|Leaving Malham Tarn. Photo from Sarah Fuller|
|Olivia - my angel|
|Half of Team Hart|
I still haven't.
(Post-race thoughts to follow)