6. Best…laid…plans…

The wait was finally over. Weeks and weeks of impatience and feverish expectation, counting down the days to their return. No, not my big long run to Littleborough. Swimming lessons!

My swimming lessons resumed on Tuesday from their summer break and my usual coach, Judy, wasn’t about. We had another stand in, Emily, who would turn out to be the best of the stand-ins I’d come across. She took time to introduce herself to everyone individually and asked everyone what they were good at and what they wanted to work on. Initially I started with front crawl, and was complimented on my high elbow technique, but told to try to not look at my raised arm as I turn to breathe. I worked on this for a bit and then talked a bit more about why I got back into swimming (kids, triathlon) and where I want it to lead (triathlon, or at least aquathlon). Decided I wanted to give something else a go, I went into backstroke, which I’ve only recently got the hang of using my arms. I was told here that I wasn’t turning my hand as it came out of the water, hence making it more difficult for myself. It was as simple, it turned out, as raising my arm halfway with my thumb pointing back, to turning it halfway through the stroke to enter the water little finger first. Practicing initially with a float, one arm at a time, I noticed an immediate difference. I was asked to try it without the float, and suddenly it seemed easier! The only thing lacking is my shoulder rotation – what Judy has called ‘the sweet spot’ – which would complete my action – along with remembering to kick more from the hips. But all in all, an excellent lesson, seemingly back and forth in the training pool most of the time. I’d certainly feel slightly more confident now of attempting a 25 metre backstroke, and seeing how I go on from there.

I opted to run intervals on the way home, covering nearly six miles and working in five minute fast intervals with a one minute jog/walk. This also went well, however I only just managed my evening meal and stretches before falling asleep on the sofa, clutching the remains of a rooibos tea! I’d truly worked myself into the ground that night, but I didn’t see it as fatigue, more a good night’s work and perhaps a slight lack of sleep.

I was all too much looking forward to Saturday, where I would finally be tackling a run across the Pennine Way. Originally I plotted this to run from Littleborough to Sowerby Bridge, setting off first thing in the morning. However the elevation profile wasn’t overly hilly that way – indeed the run back from Stoodley Pike through Sowerby was all downhill for a few miles. So I opted to reverse the route, and start from Salterhebble Locks. This meant removing Hebden Bridge town from my route, instead working up towards Stoodley Pike from Mytholmroyd, but otherwise, it was pretty much based on the route I walked the other week. The route would now provide a solid mix of road, footpaths, trails and the odd fell section too. But first, I still had to navigate an 8.4 mile run on my now usual 4am Thursdays – duly undertaken and barely anyone or anything about to distract me – this was almost just me, myself and the road ahead. I still, to this day, find something so free about that. Feeling completely alone out on the road could easily feel like a doomsday scenario if you closed your eyes and imagined hard enough. I can just keep running as far as my legs will take me, and as far as the daily grind will allow. Still, there were still plenty of people asleep when I finished the run shortly before 5:40am.

Saturday arrived. I was up on the earliest possible bus – 5:35am from Brighouse to Huddersfield, then 6:00am from Huddersfield to Salterhebble. It was a roundabout way of doing things, but better than spending it on taxi fares or running about 4 miles just to the start of my planned route. Once off the bus, I arrived at Salterhebble Locks, took up position at the junction towards Sowerby Bridge, and after carrying out my warm up, was away.

At the start of my run

The first few miles were flat, along the Calder Hebble Navigation, then cutting behind the back of Sowerby Bridge Rail Station. I arrived in the town centre, and began the long climb through Sowerby. I looked to my right. What a stunning scene.

View looking out from Sowerby New Road, Sowerby Bridge, 27/08/2016

I’ve never seen cloud as low as that on my travels. I remember watching The Adventure Show the other day, with the presenter/walker Cameron McNeish remarking at how rare it was to see such a sight and that you don’t forget it. It was the only thing stopping my progress up the hill! Absolutely beautiful. The climb was punishing, culminating at the top of the appropriately named Steep Lane, before turning right and heading on towards the Scout Rock Trail. I had just shy of a flat mile here, and witnessed a young deer run out and away into the undergrowth. The last time I witnessed this magnificent creature was a few years back while sat as a backseat passenger in my grandfather-in-law’s car. He narrowly braked in time to avoid colliding with a much larger specimen that ran out onto a country road en route to Driffield. 

The start of the Scout Rock Trail
Tricky downhill section approaching…

The trail started off gently enough but the descent that was to follow would be a technical one. My speed suffered a little here and I had to be careful, my Mudclaws not offering much grip on greasy cobbles of stone. Nonetheless, this was the sort of challenge I had planned and anticipated, and another would be coming up after Stoodley Pike. Into Mytholmroyd I landed, where I took a minute to take pictures of the River Calder – at peace, yet such a devastator when the rain lashes down, as it has done a few times in the last few years. At this point, I was at the start of Cragg Vale, the longest continual hill in England at 9km long. Not today, not today. It was the bigger hill I was interested in.

The River Calder in Mytholmroyd

Off I went, turning off Nest Lane towards Daisy Bank. This was a woodland section, quite steep and I was at times reducing to walking as I scrambled up the hill, sheep and rams all clearing the way. As I neared the top, it became more runnable. I ignored the road to my right, not seeking to add additional mileage, and headed over the stile. I could just see the top of Stoodley Pike now, and the only sign was pointing back towards Daisy Bank. But the map, I was sure, had shown me a footpath here. It looks very muddy, but seemed defined in the grass. I made the decision to try and cross it. And here, is where a good five or six weeks of planning began to fall apart.

The ground was getting less and less firm with every step, and I knew that something wasn’t right. I tried to turn back, but my feet were getting deeper and then at one point, my leg squelched into what must have been a mix of rainwater, bog and cow manure, up towards knee height and very nearly took my left shoe with it. I had to get out. I made it back, went over the stile, and knew then I wasn’t going to make it to Littleborough. 

How could I? I was covered from my left thigh down in mud and, well, shit. I had no room in the race vest for anything other than a jacket and a change of underwear. I forgot to bring a change of socks – schoolboy stuff – but more than anything, I was not in a reasonable condition to warrant heading all the way into Lancashire and attracting possible unwanted attention through my appearance. As it happened, I took the path I had ignored, and remembered I knew someone who lived in Hebden Bridge. I had their number, and was able to arrange a shower at his place. For my trouble, I also had a quick cup of tea and was granted a lift into Brighouse, stepping out and walking up the short distance home barefoot, my shoes and socks absolutely disgraced.

And there it was. A good five or six weeks of research, recce, meticulous examination and indeed progressive mileage, up in smoke. I had taken a footpath, as per the OS Explorer map, that wasn’t crossable and blew my run to smithereens. Had I continued, I potentially would have reached greater difficulty. The fact I had ignored the footpath that would have brought me onto familiar ground and avoid all this mess only compounded my absolute disappointment. All things considered, the way it ended, no holding back, was a complete fuck-up. One day, I will laugh about this experience, but not when you’ve had to handwash the junk off your shoes with an old toothbrush, when no matter how well you spin your trusted Thorlo’s socks in the washer, they just don’t quite look white any more. 

I did ponder about if this will set you back. In truth, it probably won’t.
I can be positive at conquering the steep climb out of Sowerby Bridge and through Sowerby, which is a tough task in itself, and relatively pleased I stayed upright on the Scout Rock Trail, which was as technical a drop as any I’ve previously experienced. But that’s largely it. Had I got up to Stoodley Pike, I would have been clear away and the run would have been a success. As I never made it that far, it was anything but. I did try and carry on, but I actually felt defeated. And that was simply a horrible feeling. Not having the energy to run because mentally, you’ve given the game up. Because its bloody impractical to announce your arrival after 18 miles when you smell like anything but roses. Not to mention the risk of picking up some illness from whatever was in the moor.

Attending my brother’s engagement party that evening, I announced my ordeal on Facebook and proudly boasted I’d complete the set and get absolutely shitfaced. And guess what? I did! Mission accomplished. And that was that. One minute I’m covered in it, the next I was feeling it. I suppose I’ve no regrets. At least I avoided shots this time. Just glugged up on ale.

Going forward, there’s an easier week in my training coming up and its going to be time now to mix things up. Brighouse gets its very own parkrun on Saturday 3rd September! Taking place within Wellholme Park, my nearest trail running spot, its going to be three laps of the park utilising both sides of the Red Beck that bisects it. The weather forecast is looking good – which is great, because it only takes a bit of rain to make it very muddy indeed. I’d always hoped for a parkrun there, and now someone has got there and done it. I’m sure it’ll be a grand opening and certainly a different sort of run to the wildly popular parkrun at Greenhead Park, Huddersfield. I’ll mull over whether to crack out a longer weekend run too.

So there. As running always does, lows come with the highs. Best laid plans are meant to fail. And its always my plans! Training programs will surely never be free of hitches. Yet for all the mud, manure and self-pity I nearly wallowed in, something positive is just around the corner. Even that made cleaning those Mudclaws that little bit more bearable.