9. Ascension

We here in the UK have, for once, enjoyed a pretty good summer. It hasn’t rained (too much), plenty of sunshine, even up north, and even when it looks like the weather is about to turn, along comes a hurricane in the Atlantic Ocean to send us some more humid weather. Well, at some point, that humidity had to combust, and Tuesday night, in one way, went downhill the second I got caught in a massive storm. The weather here in my corner of the world has been humid and warm for a considerable amount of time – a few weeks at least, but on Tuesday night it finally combusted, and then some. I foolishly stopped off at Sainsburys for some oat bars, and before I could get even halfway to Halifax Swimming Pool, lightning began to flash in the sky, the rain began to fall, and then it just unloaded. I ran for it, and sheltered it the doorway of a boarded up shop. Thank goodness it was just sheet lightning. The fact that Spotify was playing Motörhead’s ‘When The Sky Comes Looking For You’ felt rather apt and would have been some way to go!

That was the beginning of a night that involved 600 metres (roughly) of swimming, followed by a tired run home in clearer air, which rarely got above 8:30 mile pace and was perhaps the most sluggish run post-swimming I’ve ever experienced. Compared to the previous Tuesday, I’d actually come off my Sunday long run reasonably fresh and so I have to chalk that run down as being down to my hard lesson, which took place across 15 metres instead of 10 following the decimation of the Aquafit class, which in turn owed to the huge storm that still raged while the lesson took place. I did my warm ups over 25 metres, so I guess my running really did pay for my lesson.

Still, I had more concern over my route for the coming Saturday. A 20 mile run from Marsden. Initially a road run to Sowerby Bridge, I decided it would be too dicey to run a few miles on major ‘A’ roads. So I adjusted it to run the Pennine Way and finish in Ripponden. But that finished with too much downhill. In the end, I lost count of how many times I edited the route, but finally I came upon one I felt would be appropriate, not too technical or challenging, and with a reasonable elevation profile considering the race I was going to do in six weeks. I would run from Marsden to Diggle, via the same route as the (Wo)Man vs Barge race, then up onto the hills towards the war monuments at Dick Hill then Alderman Hill…then find a way down, go to Dovestones, run the hill to Dovestone Edge, come back down and follow the roads back to Diggle, heading back the opposite way to Marsden.

It was an early start and the moon was a full one, still brightening the night sky. Upon getting off the bus in Marsden, I noticed the full moon beginning to set behind one of Marsden’s hills. I looked magnificent, but I wanted to get up higher before it vanished. Sadly, as I ran towards my start point, it quickly disappeared from view, and any pictures I tried to take of it predictably turned out like crap. 

I began to navigate the climb that made up the (Wo)Man vs Barge course, and initially got confused, but in the end managed to get on course and onto the track that runs above Old Mount Road. Daylight was now breaking and the time elapsed trying to make the initial climb meant any opportunity to see the moon set from a vantage point was lost. At least I was on my way though, and I was able to find my way along the Pennine Way, onto the rocky path down to Diggle. Had my race actually gone this well, I’d have finished much higher than sixth last.

The Oldham Way from Standedge

The next stage was to pass the Diggle Hotel and run up Lee Side and Ward Road. Parts of this were steep but I coped fine, and was soon onto Running Hill Lane. Here is where it really began to become harder. The plan was to get up to the tops, and proceed along to the war memorials atop Dick Hill and Alderman Hill. I could see the former in the distance, but already the terrain gradient were reducing my speed and forcing me to walk. I came to a right turn, waymarked, and began to proceed. I seemed to be on course but noticed a walker up on the tops, and having passed through a gate, I looked up and decided the quickest way up was to walk right up the hill side. I use the word ‘quickly’ loosely, because this turned into a scramble. Laborious as it was, I decided that I had to do this. Even it wasn’t the correct way up, the monument was up, and so the trail must be as well. I clocked 6 miles for the first hour. This was well down on my usual pace, and the frequent navigation of footpaths and now hills meant I was losing time to checking against my planned route to ensure I was going the right way.

Eventually, I got onto the trail, and sure enough, I was able to run again. I moved on towards Dick Hill, stood proudly atop the landscape, and took the time to take a few pictures, admire the view, think about those who gave their lives in the war, and watch commerical aircraft flying not too far above my head, probably en route to Manchester Airport.

Dick Hill, on Saddleworth Moor 17/09/2016

Continuing onward, I followed the arrow marked the ‘Oldham Way’. All of a sudden, things became very steep. I was looking down the hillside and really thinking ‘crikey’. The path was clearly defined, but it was going to be tricky, and indeed I slowed down again. I stopped to check my map, and could see I was heading away from Alderman Hill, but towards Dove Stone. I couldn’t yet see the group of reservoirs down below, but I was happy I was in the right direction. I finally hit the trail leading down to the A635 and Dove Stone. Looking back up, I was counting my blessings, as Alderman Hill looked even harder to descend from my viewpoint.

I was happy to arrive at Dove Stone, and getting down to the reservoirs was easy to do. The watch had said 8 miles in around 1:21, but the number of stoppages must have been adding to the overall time on my feet. I stopped by the Yeoman Hay Reservoir to send a text out to my wife to let her know that my original ETA was off and I’d have to assess when back in Marsden. I had, perhaps quite lofty, aimed for between 9:30-10am, perhaps underestimating the scale of what I was taking on. And indeed, what was about to happen was pretty much off the scale.

You see, I had planned to run, or indeed walk, up to the top of Dovestone Edge, a set of rocky outcrops and once former quarries. I picked out a path and began to ascend. Quite quickly, running reduced to a walk, the gradient of which must have been at least 15% or greater. I meandered up, occasionally breaking into a burst of speed but nothing more. I contemplated turning back, but looked up and saw that it couldn’t be much further. So I continued, and the ground became rockier. Soon enough, I was reaching big rocks, and without thinking, I began to climb them. Not the toughest section to climb, no overhangs or precipice or anything, but certainly this was not planned! And then there I was. At the top of Dovestone Edge! I stood on top of the rock, let out a ‘woo!‘ and took in the view as I allowed what I’d just done to sink in. This was running at its most primal. Tackling great inclines and fells. It was a beautiful, clear day, and indeed, could not get enough of them view. Alderman Hill in front of me. Further peaks to my left. Dovestone Park below, the reservoirs, oh my. I actually couldn’t believe what I’d just gone and done!

On the right is Alderman Hill, below, Yeoman Hay Reservoir, to the left, Dovestones Reservoir

Having released all inhibitions of what I thought was within me, it was time to get back down. Realising I wasn’t going to do any running atop these rocks, the best thing to do was to get back to ground level and maybe run around one of the reserviors. However, I kind of got into two minds here. I tried to go one way around Yeoman Hay Reservoir, but opted to double back and do a quick out and back down the other side. I simply didn’t want to get overly wet and muddy at this stage, so kept on firm ground and got up to 11 miles. The time now was 9:10am. I’d be out approaching three hours, yet the watch was only approaching two hours. I’d had a lot of stoppages, clearly, and I’d lost complete track of time. I opted to stick to the roads for the next few miles, and turned up onto Tunstead Lane to try and get back towards Diggle. Except here I missed a sweeping bend onto Haw Clough Lane and realised I’d added about another half mile there and back onto the route by the time I corrected my error. I was also beginning to struggle on hills. The first 9 miles were unquestionably the steepest ever. It had taken everything out of me there, and every hill after that became a struggle. From about mile 12, I seemed to have to stop and walk, sometimes hands on knees. Every flat section and downhill was appreciated, because I knew once I neared the Diggle Hotel, I was going to have to climb back to Standedge, not on roads, but on the rocky footpath I’d bounded down about two or three hours prior. I had to keep my morale up.

1 1/4 miles to Standedge. I knew once I was up here, the majority of the climb was over. It was a trudge. Every time I tried to pick up the pace, I had to slow it down. I tucked into my Chia Charge protein bar for energy. That was meant for post-run, but I’d been on my feet over three hours, and I just wanted to get back to Marsden. I just hoped I had enough in the tank.

Finally I got to Standedge. 17 miles were up. Initially I walked the first uphill section along the Pennine Bridleway, but I managed to set off into a running motion. I had one final uphill to manage, and I actually ran it. Now I was heading to the crossing at Old Mount Road, and all I had to do was get onto that road and onto the final descent into Marsden town centre. Over I went. Tiredness was coursing through me. The run had surpassed three hours, the time on my feet, four hours. I suffered negative thoughts, something I hadn’t truly suffered since training for Manchester in 2015. I was spent, losing my weekend, losing family time. I was physically and mentally shattered. Not quite broken, but I had to tell myself to stay positive. Its highly likely the way I was finishing here will be how I finish Snowdonia. Tired, fatigued, almost out on my feet, wanting it to end. But still running.

I turned right at the foot of Old Mount Road, and ran the final few yards back to Peel Street. I reached 19.5 miles, and stopped the watch there. It was 10:40am. A bus back into Huddersfield passed. I was stood, hunched over, hands on knees, as an elderly lady walked past. I wasn’t asking for any attention, but I didn’t seem to be getting any, so long as I was standing. I walked off in the search of the nearest cafe, got a bacon sandwich, and snaffled it between stretches as I waited for the bus back into Huddersfield.

Looking back initially at the run, I just felt like it hadn’t gone entirely to plan – I don’t mean the bouts of sheer scrambling and climbing necessarily, much as they slowed me up. Not even the fact I deviated from my route to follow the path to Dovestones, because ultimately that made no difference to my mileage. I just felt as though this time, I’d maybe set the bar too high. I’m not an experienced fell runner, and not a hugely (yet) enthusiastic trail runner – which is more about experience than enjoyment – I love the freedom it brings. But the hills I climbed here were frequent and at times, ridiculous. The race will have a long hill, a shorter steeper hill, and then a shorter, absolute bastard hill later on. There was nothing rolling about this. I can’t keep count of how many hills I actually plotted for myself. Its supposed to be fun, this endurance lark!

I really wanted to hit the reset button, but there’s one consequence to this run that I’m not panicking over – but its nonetheless a minor concern. The arch of my right foot is banged up a little bit. Just below the ball of the foot, at the top of the arch. I feel experienced in man-management of these injuries from my experience of sesamoiditis, so I’m confident I’ll be rid of it and my race plans can go ahead as normal. Short term though, and it does raise a question mark about whether I’ll be ready to take on the greatest challenge of my training. The 22 mile long run loop of Holmfirth, via Holmbridge, Holme, Holme Moss, Crowden, the Pennine Way, Wessenden Head, Meltham, Wilshaw and Upperthong. Big long 10% climbs and descents, treading the paths, peats, moors and bogs of the Pennine Way, down Wessenden Head Road, and the final climb through residential Holme Valley before the drop out of Upperthong into Holmfirth. I suspect that will push me right to the edge, but I’m so desperate to do this run because its arguably the closest thing in profile to what I may experience soon in North Wales. This Saturday is my only realistic chance of running it in this form – there is the week after, perhaps, but I’d have to drop a couple of miles from the route at least. None of which I should really be considering if I don’t feel certain I can run the whole thing and not make a tiny issue a bigger one.

All in all though, no bother. Six weeks til the race as of this past Saturday. There’s plenty time yet and no reason to rush. That’s the experience I’ve got behind me to know I’ve had worse than this – all my problems prior to London, the peroneal injury I picked up five weeks from Manchester – this is a mere molehill compared to those comparative mountains.