The Leg of No Sympathy
“Hi Paul, how was Welsh Castles?”
“Yeah good thanks, really enjoyed it”
“Was it hilly?”
“Actually, it was all downhill”
“You lucky bastard!!”
I remember when Justin allocated me the stage and I saw the 9.2 miles of constant downhill. Result!! I thought. When I showed it to my brother-in-law (who won a mountain stage in last year’s WCR for Sale), he wasn’t as positive. “You’ve had a mare, mate!”
Fast forward to the Sunday and Wales hadn’t seen heat like this since the locals were setting English holiday homes ablaze. My partners for the stage were Nick (whose disappearing back I’ve become accustomed to throughout spring marathon training) and Emma B, my old sparring partner who I’d run the Manchester Marathon with. Both of whom arrived in just the nick of time, to answer the starting-marshal’s call of “Chorlton……….Chorlton………do we have Chorlton?”
Starting on the G of bang, me and Emma soon saw Nick disappear into the distance (as was ever thus), and we dug in. It soon became apparent that this race was much like being locked in a sauna on a treadmill stuck on decline. Within the first half mile the ultra-competitive Emma chirped “I hope we don’t just stay in this position – I want to start overtaking people!” “Easy tiger – nice and steady”.
A few miles in, the pace was relentless – a 10km race pace for 15km, and the thighs were taking the punishment. There was a total lack of shade and as we dropped in altitude, the temperature rose (surely, heat rises!?!). But we hadn’t been overtaken and we’d pipped one or two runners already. A prize moment came when a runner (possibly from Neath, I think) was being closely tracked by her support vehicle, which soon stopped at a layby to offer her some water. She’d been previously unaware we’d been on her tail and as she slowed down to grab a breather and drink, we swept passed her. “Well done, keep going”, encouraged Emma. “Eat my black and gold dust”, she really meant.
Half way in, a frenetic mini-bus load of Chorltonites screamed encouragement, followed by several hundred decibels of Renshaw. We soon reeled in a small group of runners who’d been in front of us (marathon training had taught me the lesson of not going too quickly, too soon, at last) and we still hadn’t been overtaken. It was impossible to judge what our pace should be, having never thought a constant 9.2 miles downhill was even possible, let alone have run it, but our move up the field suggested we may have got it right, though an hour stuck in a blast furnace with legs that felt like somebody else’s could take its toll at any time.
Having split from Emma after about 7 miles, I had one final zombie in my sights. In a final sudden and quite violent drop before we entered the park which hosted the finish I managed to take her – and she did not look happy. Is it wrong of me to have a modicum of schadenfreude when I found out she was from South Wales Police? In the final straight, I saw Nick in front of me. Tantalisingly close, but nowhere near close enough to take. The cheer in from the gathering CR support at the finish was a massive boost. I was jubilant, delighted, exhausted, proud, hot and drenched in sweat. At the lake’s side by the finish, a fisherman tugged steadily on his cigarette, totally unimpressed. A great leveller.
Karen and my son soon met up with me at the end with Mark Atkinson, who we’d travelled down with. The fact that he was walking like James Brown at the end of a particularly strenuous gig, told its own tale of his race.
So, in summary, amazing scenery, faultless organisation, a unique course, stellar support and magical sense that I’d just played a small part in something very special. Lucky bastard, indeed.
In case it floats anyone else’s boat, I thought I’d write a bit about having done an event I found through the LDWA (Long Distance Walkers Association) at the weekend. I know quite a few of the club like walking as well as running so here we go…
This particular one was a 20 miler in West Yorkshire, starting at Heath RUFC in Stainland near Halifax (the same place that the Bluebell Trail race started from, if anyone’s done that) and I picked it because it fitted in nicely with training for the Snowdonia Marathon. It was organised by the Elland Round Table and thus called ‘The Walk To Ell’and Back’… http://www.ellandback.com/
The thing it took me longest to realise, as someone who’s done fell running for a while, is that you can run these Challenge Events as well as walk them. Or run/walk them, or anything in between. I’d been told this several times by various people including my girlfriend, but I’m a bit thick so it took ages for that to actually sink in.
They come in various shapes and sizes, a quick look at their website (https://www.ldwa.org.uk/challenge_events/events_list.php) shows anything from 10 miles up to 75 – some events provide alternative distances, for example there’s one next week in the Goyt Valley (https://www.ldwa.org.uk/challenge_events/show_event.php…) where you can choose to do 13.3 miles or 24.5 miles.
The only kit requirements were “suitable footwear & clothing, a whistle, emergency rations, a compass…. and a map (1:25,000 Outdoor Leisure Map of the South Pennines).” I’d assumed I’d be fine with my usual fell running kit, which includes waterproofs with taped seams. The only snag was that I’d kind of forgotten about the map, and only realised I needed one at half past 9 the night before. Seeing as late-night Ordnance Survey Map Shops are a bit thin on the ground in Manchester, I’m lucky to be going out with someone who owns a copy of said map and didn’t mind going to her parents house to get it for me.
How these things work is that runners are asked to set off later than walkers, to give the organisers a chance to get marshals to the checkpoints in time – in this case the walkers left the start at 8am, the runners left the start at half 9, and I left the start at quarter to ten because I’d set my alarm an hour too late and only got there after the other runners had set off.
This is the second one of these I’ve done (both have been non-LDWA events that I’ve found through the list on their website) and both times it’s been the same format. You turn up, the route map is pinned up on the wall, but what you get given is a list of route instructions to follow. If you manage to follow the instructions perfectly, then no map reading will be required. However I reckon most human beings (including me) will miss a stile or a turning at some stage, or want to stop to double-check that they are on the right track, so it’s a bit irresponsible to enter one of these things unless you’re already acquainted with a map and a compass.
The clever thing to do, if you’ve got one of those Ordnance Survey maps that’s laminated, is to look at the route that’s pinned up and mark the checkpoints on your map in felt tip – or even the entire route, if you’ve got time. However I’d forgotten to bring a pen or pencil and seeing as I was already running late, I just got out there.
I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account because the idea of this is more to give you an idea of what to expect if you want to do one yourself, but the scenery was bloody lovely, and Calderdale is very hilly so it doesn’t half take it out of your legs. I’m training for the Snowdonia Marathon which has 1800 feet of climb – this was 3000 feet of climb over 20 miles.
It was a nice varied route, some along the towpath of the Calder & Hebble canal, some on roads, and some on footpaths of varying quality, some great, some overgrown, some slippery with mud – my main lesson learned is don’t expect it all to be runnable, particularly if you’re wearing shorts and are fussy about being stung by nettles. I know I am.
The challenge of these Challenge Events is just to do them, it’s not really about how fast – this one wasn’t timed at all. The nice thing is that if you do it as a runner, after about the first third of it, you start overtaking walkers – and everybody’s very encouraging, and also it helps to see them ahead of you and know you’re on the right track.
There were six checkpoints, you get your route card clipped at every one to prove you’d been there, and water and squash was available at every one, plus lunch was laid on at the checkpoint just after halfway – sandwiches, crisps, chocolate bars, fruit, tea and coffee. Seeing as there was also a hotpot pie with mushy peas at the finish, and it only cost £10 to enter, that strikes me as pretty damn good value.
Following the printed instructions was reasonably easy but I never felt quite able to trust them, or more accurately my ability to follow them correctly. According to Strava it took me 4 hours 8 minutes to do the whole thing, but I was only moving for 3 hours 41 of that. Those extra 27 minutes were spent either map reading, double-checking the instructions, or eating a tuna sandwich at the lunch checkpoint. I only went off course three times, and realised fairly quickly on each occasion so that wasn’t too bad.
One day I’d like to do one of these just as a walk (or only run the easy bits) and take my time.
Running it was great as an occasional antidote to marathon training – the running is quite different, very stop-start, some very steep uphill and downhill bits on varied terrain. Not much help when it comes to the need to train yourself to churn out endless 8-minute miles or whatever on the road, but for an occasional endurance and stamina session to get some climbing in your legs, I’d recommend it.
Needless to say there aren’t any t-shirts or medals (you get a signed certificate to say you’ve done it, I’m not really sure what to do with mine), but given the whole thing costs a tenner and includes free refreshments halfway round and a hotpot pie at the end, what’s not to like?
See the route Dinas Mawddwy to Foel
Becki Deeran, Fraser McDonald Oulds, Charlotte Durrand.
I signed up for the weekend after hearing so much in 2015 about the race. I was not exactly sure what the weekend entailed but I was open minded and just wanted to enjoy being with fellow runners.
I was secretively looking forward to the camping part as well ha ha, I love camping… G&T in a tin on a school field, perfect Saturday night.
I was initially down for stage 15 but then Justin asked me to switch to stage 8, I was aware this was a hilly stage on the course but I thought at least I get it over and done with on the Saturday.
Fraser and Charlotte were running the course with me. It was approx. 11 miles and it was so hot on the day, everyone was so fast and just took off, I was not prepared for this mentally, however as you are running you get Chorlton Runners in the vans passing and cheering you along.
The first 3 miles I am afraid to say, I hated every single minute of it! and I think my face said it all when all the vans drove past, but then everything changed after the water station.
I mentally re-focussed, I thought this is my race and I just started to enjoy it. The heat was horrific even though it was 4pm in the afternoon. I thoroughly enjoyed this stage even though it was tough for me, but another race done and another challenge completed.
Last year I was lucky enough to do the glory leg of stage 20 which was pretty much pancake flat. This year not so lucky as somebody clearly thought it was time for me to do some hills…
My memory of dropping people at stage 8 from last year was the start outside a pub and having conversation with some guys on motorbikes who were several pints down and just couldn’t understand why you would want to run around Wales. This year was no different with a crowd of people with pints cheering us on. As we lined up at the start Fraser pointed out that we were running with Dave Norman – nothing like that to boost your confidence!
The start was tough, a steep uphill onto the main road and then more gradual hills, I knew that people would go off fast and was prepared to be bringing up the rear which was what happened, I also struggled to get my breathing under control and started to think that I should have gone to some of Val’s hill sessions after all! After about 3 miles I settled into a bit more of a rhythm and got into my stride – it was all on a pretty busy road with cars constantly passing which wasn’t that nice but the scenery when you looked up was beautiful. The support was immense, though I was slightly concerned that Chris Rayner was going to fall out of the bus as he leaned out with the door open in an A-team style!
I was passed by a few people including a Sale Harrier which was demoralising but then just settled into it and managed to pull back, the hills were gradual and a few downhills which I tried to make the most of to get some speed. On some of the uphills there were several guys walking which spurred me on (and I may have muttered MTFU under my breath as I passed them!) I then spied my Sale Harrier who seemed to have slowed so I Shingoed, eating up the miles to catch another girl who had passed me earlier – I used Gavin’s tactic of zombie slaying (though she didn’t look very zombie like at all!) and managed to catch her – she managed a very good natured well done as I passed her.
We passed the 1 mile to the finish marker and I had a sense of someone behind me, there was a guy who seemed to be gaining on me which spurred me on and I managed a 7.24 final half mile, coming in 5 seconds before him to a glamorous finish in a layby with CR cheering me on!
I should have done Val’s hill sessions
CR support is immense
I now know how to fill a van to bursting with litres of lovely diesel!