Monday May 28th, 2018

Shortly before the stubbed toe debacle, I found myself free to do something on my own on Bank Holiday Monday (May 28th) with my wife and kids having booked a short notice holiday to Blackpool during the kids half term. This isn’t the first time I’ve been left home alone, but usually my attentions turn to either doing a long bike ride (which never comes to fruition), or the likelier, go on a long walk somewhere. Like I did once on a very rainy and windy day up Ilkley Moor. But then I thought to myself, during my lunch hour, why don’t I search ‘running races in Yorkshire’. Sure enough, I got a few race listings up and came across the Ilkley Harriers Trail Race. It had an 11:30am start time, just over two hours after I would be due to see my wife and kids off at Halifax Rail Station, and I could reach it from Halifax by train in plenty of time for the start. Perfect! Though the stubbed toe meant I put off my entry, my recovery was immediate enough to consider myself race ready. And so I booked it in, hours before the deadline for online entries.

The Ilkley Harriers Trail Race is one of the aforementioned club’s annual races. It was first run in 2008 and has been staged every year since. As opposed to races such as the Ilkley Moor Fell Race and the Dick Hudson Fell Race, this race avoids Ilkley Moor save for a view of it at the top of the course, instead taking in Middleton Woods and heading north in the direction of, and around, Middleton Moor, before heading back down to the start/finish area, Ilkley Pool & Lido. It also raises money for charity, this year raising funds for the Revival Centre and Orphanage in Matugga, Uganda. The race was categorised under FRA rules, a Cat C medium difficulty race, measured at 6.9 miles with 700 ft of climb, and as such, runners would need to provide full minimum mandatory kit. You know, waterproofs, hat, gloves, map, compass, whistle, food (have I missed anything). Even though we’ve had almost nothing but 20C plus for the last week or two, and given how I’d seen photos of runners from the previous year in vest and shorts combinations, I was puzzled as to whether it was absolutely necessary to enforce the FRA rules when the forecast was to be sunny with almost zero chance of precipitation. Nonetheless, rules are rules and safety is paramount. So I took the lot in my race vest, which I stuffed into my larger backpack.

Upon arriving at the Ilkley Lido, and having travelled the whole way in overcast conditions wearing a visor, I felt it necessary to change to a buff/neck gaiter instead. So that’s what I did. 5 minutes later, the buff was around my wrist. It was far too warm and muggy for any headwear, it seemed. The sunglasses stayed in my bag, as did the FRA-required kit. At which point I noticed a van with a label on the dashboard saying ‘No Kit Required’. Typical, bloody typical!

It would end up being too warm for the headwear!

I was heartened to see one of my club mates, Will, also at the race, in Halifax colours. It had a feeling I was the only Halifax Harrier there, but how wrong I was indeed. My club mate Will happened to be larking about. I’d first met him when I surged past him on the track one night. He’s a fantastic runner, and it was great to see someone I recognised at the event. Not that it bothers me if I don’t know anyone at an event – it’s something I’m used to from my unattached days, and in any case most runners tend to be able to strike up conversation fairly easily, given we all have a common interest as a starting point! I digress.

The two Halifax Harriers, discussing race tactics!

The race started on Curly Hill, at the drop of the starter’s hand. There was no countdown, just a brief announcement and off we went. The start at the front was fast but audibly settled down as soon as the first climb took effect. Turning left into Middleton Woods, the real racing soon took hold as the race cut a course through the woodland. Now, if memory serves me correctly, there was a saxophonist performing in the middle of the woods for the runners! It was unusual to have musical support on course in a trail race, but certainly welcoming, and impressive.

Emerging from the woods into a field populated with lambs and possibly goats, I was engaged in a mini race for lesser positions, but still entirely focused on my own effort. It was nice to be faring reasonably well but I remember how strong the more local, experienced runners are around these parts.

The view at the top of the moor was well worth the climb, looking one way towards Wharfedale Valley and the other back towards Ilkley Moor. For a brief second or two I could marvel at how spectacular it looked. I could now see a few more runners beginning to disappear as the race meandered off the moorland, onto the roads and then back onto the trails of the moor within a minute or two. It would eventually become a personal target for myself to catch the one runner I could see ahead of me, dressed in the red vest of the Ilkley Harriers, who was some distance in front, but I didn’t believe he was impossible to catch.

Flying through Middleton Woods towards the end of the race

Though he was some distance ahead, I knew there would be a point where I could put in some mean pace and it was during the sixth mile. It was a gradual downhill, meeting back up with the first part of the race route. I put in maximum effort here, but it felt almost effortless gliding down the hill, of course being careful to check my step at every opportunity. Gradually I reeled in the Ilkley runner and like any good runner, surged past him without a glance as I went through mile six in 5:29.8. I kept on the pace through Middleton Woods, turning up right at the exit back onto Curly Hill, with only the stairs back to the Pool and Lido grounds, and the finishing straight to come.

Arriving in to finish

I turned left, took the stairs relatively well, and kept my stride as I arrived in. I then heard a shout along the lines of ‘keep going, he’s catching you!‘, which put a spring in my step and I ensured I crossed the finish about a second in front of whoever it was behind. I came to finish 14th in 47:47, having covered 7 miles according to watch. It turned out the man who shouted was Will, and he had actually won the race!

It was a turn up of sorts. Halifax are traditionally a road running club, and here was one of my team mates winning on the stomping grounds of trail and fell runners. Not that unusual perhaps, given that Halifax has its fair share of hills, but we could both be rightly pleased with how we ran.

It only felt right to purchase a bottle of Ilkley brewed beer afterwards, one that went down very nicely on such a warm day! You can also just see the t-shirt given to all runners after the event. It’s a nice leisurely Fastrax t-shirt, which I imagine I’ll get more practical use out of than a medal.

For something I found last minute, it turned out to be so much more than just a race I would just do to fill the time. Some of my team were at the Vitality 10K in London, a race which came too soon after the London Marathon this year to put upon my family. Well, now I have found a challenging trail race that I really enjoyed. Superbly organised and marshalled by volunteers at every relevant point of the course, even out in the sticks, this turned out to be a brilliant race, one that I will regard as a stepping stone in terms of my ongoing progression, and one I’d give fair consideration to not just filling my time come May Spring Bank Holiday next year, but to take on a tough yet surmountable trail race and attempt to better my result. And of course, take in all that lovely, almost endless, Yorkshire scenery. I’ll leave it there by saying thank you to the Ilkley Harriers for their superb hospitality, bringing the warm weather to the race, and for a friendly competitive event.

Featured image, pre-race and Middleton Woods photos by Philip Bland

Finish line photo by Dave Woodhead/Woodentops.org.uk

Official race website