Race Report: Canal Christmas Cracker 5K 

Sunday December 10th, 2017

At this time of year, in the last two years I’ve run the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon, a hilly trail race involving pie-eating and all manner of silly costumes. I enjoyed shoving mince pies down my face as I run, but this year I wanted a different challenge while still running a shorter distance than I traditionally race. The Canal Christmas Cracker 5K fit the bill perfectly, completely sans pies (until the end, at least), and somewhat less hilly – a decision which, Post-White Rose Ultra, seemed like a masterstroke. Indeed, you can’t get much flatter than a canal most of the time, save for, in this case, a couple of up and down footbridges that required navigation.

The last few days building up to the race, however, seemed ominous to say the least. Britain was about to get a blast from Storm Caroline – which, in my part of the country, seemed more like a bit of a shower and little else – followed by an icy currant of weather that would send temperatures subzero. Queue a nervous few days as reports of heavy snow came in from down south and races around the country were either cancelled or subject to review. 

Meanwhile, in Brighouse, the little town that could, it really tried hard to snow.  And yet every flurry, every downfall failed to come to fruition. This was the scene on Friday afternoon… 

Dashing through the sn…oh…

Effusing positivity, it seemed, were the team at It’s Grim Up North Running, who via Facebook were doing everything to assure runners that the race would be going ahead, between posting pictures of delicious looking cake, something of a trademark that has become synonymous with this wonderful Leeds based events company. Having done two events earlier in the year (the Sir Titus Trot in January, the Leeds-Liverpool Canal Canter in March), it seemed right to close off my year of running with a crack at one of their shorter events, although there was still a marathon here to be ran if you really fancied upwards of 3 or 4 hours, maybe more, running in absolutely freezing cold conditions. And in typically northern fashion, we would not be deterred. 

I was very glad, however, to reach the registration venue in Kirkstall. The chill I felt after leaving the bus was immense. Thankfully the heating was on and the main function room seemed to be packed. I wandered over to the 5K and 10K registration desk and didn’t even need to introduce myself. I was actually recognised? Apparently I was the really fast runner who was going to run the 5K in 18 minutes! I played down my expectations, modest as I ever am, because as fun as this was going to be (if running in subzero is your idea of fun), it was still a race to be run, not necessarily to be won. 

I went back after completing my warm up exercises and introduced myself to James, a fellow runner from the online running community, Running the World. He had been helping with registration and was also running the 10K. After exchanging a few stories about running and, indeed, the weather, it was time to head back out to go to the start/finish at Kirkstall Bridge. Not without wishing one another luck, of course. 

The race start was a little chaotic, and partly through my own doing. I decided to go on a warm up jog down the canal, just to check the towpath for ice, and obviously to get my running legs going before the off. Except, in doing so, I missed the majority of the race briefing. How despicable of me. I understood at least there was going to be a staggered start, with the half, 20 mile and marathon racers going first travelling west under Kirkstall Bridge, with the 5K and 10K runners starting a bit further back on the other side, heading out east towards Leeds. I complicated matters when another runner said he thought the 5K runners were starting back the other side of the bridge, so I listened and found nearly everyone had come towards where I’d come from. So I went back, and just stood with the 10K runners as the longer distance runners hurriedly started their race. So much so that a few runners also turned up late for their start, so the group didn’t go through in one go. With nearly everyone, it seemed, through, the countdown to the 5 and 10K began. And yes, I asked if this was the 5K start. James said ‘just run Peter!’ The horn was sounded, my brief embarrassment and self-shame put to one side as I sprinted off the line. Incredibly, more of the half and full runners came under Kirkstall Bridge after the 5 and 10K races began, which meant I had to manoeuver around them tightly cornering the outside of the towpath.

After all that, I finally had clear towpath ahead of me. And so I just ran my natural race, ie. to go as hard and fast as possible. Resulting in a 3:25 first km, according to watch. That would be as quick as it got, with the aforementioned hills up ahead to contend with, brief as they were, and the biting cold perhaps just slowing me by a few seconds here and there. Nonetheless, at the turn, I was well clear, and eventually past the leading 10K runners, which included James, offering a sort of high five as we crossed paths. I had quite a gap back to second and really could enjoy the thrill of ideal conditions as far as this day could be expected – about 98% ice free throughout, save for a few icy muddy puddles which were navigated without too much difficulty.

The race distance exceeded 5km as it happened, so I knew I couldn’t count on my time here as a PB – I went through 5km in 18:15, a good few seconds off my parkrun PB – but ended up running another. 35km according to watch, finishing in 19:40. Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy something I’d never experienced before as a runner in an actual race – victory!

I slowed up at the line and gratefully received a finisher’s medal, along with the winner’s trophy for 1st Placed Male. I even got my photo taken in front of Kirkstall Bridge. And unlike the Canal Canter Ultra earlier in the year, I was able to stomach one of the masses of cake and pastries so lovely served up for the runners at the finish. The cranberry tart I had was incredible!

Holding the 5K 1st Male trophy. Finally number 1

It turned out I finished, in 5K distance terms, a long way ahead of the second place male, and it turned out only 5 people ran the 5K, myself included. IGUNR are still an up and coming events company, and for my money one of the best around – it seems, however, their more popular events are 10K upwards to half and full marathon distances, and most of their race entry allocation goes on these events. The only nitpicking I could stage on this occasion is the slightly chaotic staggered start (of which I played my own small part), but this is a minor quibble because it didn’t actually delay the start, and at the end of the day, its a Christmas race, a chance for a bit of fun. 

I’ll never let anything take away from what I achieved – I was best on the day and that’s about as much as anyone can say. It caps an absolutely amazing 12 months, which started with 5th at last year’s Pieathlon – two thirds, a second, a couple more top 10 finishes, and now a first place finish at last. I can honestly say I never expected to win a race, and would have been happy just to excel myself, yet at the same time, it felt like such a long time coming and ultimately I’m very happy I’ve actually achieved it.

Many thanks to Diane, Cath and the It’s Grim Up North Running team for putting on this event and working tirelessly to ensure it went ahead, despite the harsh weather conditions preceding the race, and their incredible positivity and enthusiasm for ensuring another successful race event. A massive thank you to the marshals who stood for hours in the cold conditions, and well done to all who competed on this, well, grim day up north. 

It’s Grim Up North Running website

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Race Report: White Rose Ultra 2017

Saturday November 4th, 2017

The twelve hours or so preceding this race were a little stressful. I had kids bedtime to do on my own and the little mites wouldn’t sleep! Then I had a hour in the evening trying to get my kit ready – cleaning my hydration bladder, sorting out my mandatory kit, my clothing, etc., while trying to get enough sleep. I slept only around six hours, and after showering, found that my plan to eat porridge about 30 minutes before my bus, just after 5:30am, were ill conceived. I couldn’t even finish my porridge either. I ended up hastily packing my hydration fluid and sachets away, getting out the door to my bus too hastily, in a bit of a panic. When on the bus, I got listening to a random mix of Leftfield, The Album Leaf, doom bringers Thou, and then Run The Jewels (who I’m off to see Thursday!), before proceeding to get off the bus a stop early. No matter. I enjoyed my walk to race HQ, while gleefully uttering the words ‘RTJ3, motherf****rs’ with nobody about to hear, all while admiring the majesty of Pule Hill, which overlooks the village of Marsden, in early morning darkness. By now I could at least relax at race HQ and get my things prepared while counting down to race time.

Race day was finally here, some five months after that whimsical decision. The White Rose Ultra. One of northern England’s premier ultra marathons was finally here, in its 5th year, welcoming runners from far and wide to attempt one loop, two loops, or three (+ 10 additional miles) of its 30 mile course.
It was good to converse with other entrants, as it always is – in running you rarely need to talk about anything else – and I even met a regular from the Running the World Facebook group – before warming up, setting my baggage to one side. The room went from relatively empty when I first arrived to the whole visitor centre being full of runners, some new to this ultra game, others more experienced, coming from all parts of the UK and beyond.

Everyone began to gather outside. The rain wasn’t lashing down by any means, but the air was still damp. Plenty of time remained for selfies and some further warming up before Wane, the race director, debriefed the runners shortly before the race began.

As the 30 second warning went out, I realised I hadn’t switched on my watch! I quickly turned it on but of course, it was never going to find a satellite so quickly. Alas, the race set off, and my watch took a good minute or two before I could get it going. I was quickly established around the first seven or eight runners, already spread out as one guy doing the 30 had already opened up a gap heading towards Mount Road. Once on the hill, the gap spread out a little more, but we all kept in touch more or less. The race then took a tight angle to the left, heading back down Old Mount Road. I could only note the leader getting away further from the other lead runners. The downhill gradient was an invitation to inject some pace into proceedings, and I gained a few places, before ceding two immediately after mistaking a dead end for Binn Road, the road leading to the Wessenden Valley and Pennine Way. The hills were already proving challenging, but eventually it levelled out as the trail emerged. To the left, walls, bushes and hills. To the right, reservoirs, spillways and more hills. One of Yorkshire’s most spectacular sights, right on the edge of the Lancashire boundary. Notably, the leader was getting away even further. I thought he’d surely overcooked it, but who was I to know. I focused on my own race and continued to navigate the numerous puddles and muddy footpaths left by the overnight rain. Its a gentle climb up to the top of the Wessenden Valley, with only the last climb to the top having a bit of sting in the tail.

The first self serve water station was here, and I got some in my reusable cup, which was a bit flimsy in terms of keeping its shape and actually getting anything from it. At this point, I’d still not had any caffeine. I needed to shock myself, it seemed, so as the wind gripped at the top of Wessenden Head, I chucked the remaining water in my face. I seemed instantaneously awoken, like whatever punishment I’d sustained subsided and now it was time to enjoy some road running. I kept to my tactic though, of trying to stop for nourishment every hour, so I slowed down and finally took some of my caffeine drink, along with a slice of Soreen malt loaf. This allowed a runner to overtake me, so I ensured I didn’t hang about took long in my walk phase and got moving again, taking the left off the road to head through the trails leading to Blackmoorfoot reservoir.

Here I made some inroads into the positions, gaining two places, but my jacket was loosening from my waist, and I decided it needed to go back in the bag. I got to a corner in the road, having really worked hard, took off the vest and set it down to put it back. Only, the zip jammed. It would not open. I was overtaken again, and so, furious with myself, ran off carrying the jacket for a short distance before tying it back around my waist as the route crossed more trail. I got back into my rhythm and noticed up ahead that two runners were crossing by the Blackmoorfoot Reservoir. I was still some distance behind at this point, but as I left the reservoir behind, I began to catch up these two runners at the first food station. I reached the food desk just as they left, grabbed a sausage roll and more water, and quickly set off again, feeling I could keep my pace up over this relatively mild section.

Heading towards Linthwaite, I was enjoying a rich vein of running form. I seemed to be running well at this point, and the view from above was even more enjoyable due to the presence of two deer, absolutely at peace. The route barreled down towards Linthwaite village, and before I knew it, I’d overtaken the two men (one doing the 30, the other running the 60) and was keeping the pace downhill.

I kept up the pace as the race reached Linthwaite, but I knew what was coming next. The next 6 miles or so were filled with steep hills, winding through Wellhouse, Bolster Moor, Leymoor, and then up towards Scapegoat Hill. I had slowed up a little to try and retain a much steadier momentum up the hill, but I’d forgotten how steep the incline towards Bolster Moor was! I dropped a few places here and saved my legs as the race led to the right, once past the farm shop. At this point, I came across one of my club mates from the Halifax Harriers, who had come out for a little while to take some photos, all of which took place on some of the less stressful sections of the route, which were taking their toll already. I did my best to smile – I was genuinely pleased to see someone I knew out on course. He would appear again a little further up the road. Apparently the front runners were only a couple of minutes ahead, but realistically I knew I was beginning to suffer.

Leaving Bolster Moor. Looking strong at this point!

I reached the trail section known as Hollin Hall Lane here, which is all downhill into the village of Leymoor, but the overnight rain made going down in treacherous. The runner behind me said it was dicy in road shoes, and my toothy Salomons had little grip either. I jarred my left achillies at one point, and near the bottom I managed to whack my left ankle with my right foot. That one seemed particularly painful at the time, but on I went. It didn’t inhibit my gait, and the road was a nice diversion before heading up the cobbles of Dodlee Lane. This one was run-walked. Further along the next country road was the next aid station, combined with a water station as well. More water and a couple of Jelly Babies, I was off again. 

Still going well…

The next section wound past the Outlane golf course. This is pretty much where my race as I knew it began to unravel. My quads had basically had enough. Scarily too, had my lower calf muscles. I found myself stopping to stretch them at one point, but I felt good to continue. Seeing the M62 up ahead meant I must be near the top, but there just seemed to be another hill every time I turned a corner. Eventually, I came out onto the end of Pole Moor, heading towards New Hey Road, and I could no longer see anyone in front. My race had truly gone to hell, in the sense that any pre-race strategy was out of the window as walk breaks were far more frequent, and that my quads, going uphill at least, were deadweight. The nutrition remained more or less the same, as I started taking gels to try and give myself a boost. Even on New Hey Road, I was struggling to run and I really had to remind myself this was left foot, right foot stuff. I looked back as I took the next turn, and saw no one behind me. Not that I cared for where I finished, but it was surely a matter of time before someone else caught and passed me.

I started to pick up a little more energy at last, heading into mile 23. I felt like I had the reserves to move things up and even if it was still, to me, a nine minute mile I was running, it was still progress on before. The race was now entering its closing phase, winding through Bradshaw, Slaithwaite and finally into Marsden. I felt reasonably OK until I felt some sort of cramp coming into my quads, fearing it could be curtains if it took hold. So I stopped, trying to do a quad stretch and nearly made it worse. Finding it better to keep going, the cramp oddly disappeared and I was able to keep going at around nine-ten minute miles, as the course became very undulating. Down one drop and a right hand turn, along the road, then another right turn.

And there it was. Plains Lane. At mile 29/59/89 depending on which race you were in. It starts off steep, then flattens a little before becoming even steeper and finally turning trail and. retaining its steepness. Goodness knows what gradient it is, I already made my promise to myself weeks ago I was walking nearly every inch of this hill, and I delivered. It was a massive slog, and yet, as I took one last look behind me, looking down the hill, still I found no one behind me. If I was getting caught anywhere it was this hill, but as I finally reached the peak, nope, still no one had passed, and I had my running legs again.

There was still one gentle climb to navigate but the miles and yards were running out on this race. Eventually, a left turn would see myself looking downhill, and at last, a left pointing arrow directing towards the finish. I found some resolve, bolstered by the knowledge the end was near, and finally found some pace as I ran the remaining fractions of a mile. I got those knees lifted, those shoulders moving, and as the right turn approached, I even lengthened my stride! I charged down the hill, turned left and crossed the finish running stronger than at any time since about mile 16. I was quickly informed at the finish line I’d finished tenth! Not a bad result at all.

Heading back upstairs, the chief organisers Wane and Kate, whom know me on first name terms having partaken in the Pieathlon and having got hilariously lost during the (Wo)Man vs Barge last year, presented me with a medal and t-shirt. I confirmed to them I didn’t want to do another loop of the course, and headed off for the post-race grub. Vegetarian chilli!

This was far from a perfect race for me, mostly in terms of my own transgressions against myself – not setting my watch at the start was most unlike myself, though I only wanted it mostly for recording my run rather than tracking my pace constantly.  Trying to keep up the pace and not stop for rest at aid stations was a rookie mistake. The decision to take out my jacket at the start of the race when the rain, in retrospect, wasn’t so bad and was beginning to clear, wasn’t a great one due to the faffing about with the jacket, especially when I stopped to load it into my race vest, which itself was a bane during and after the race due to a label getting caught in the zip. Nothing quite like mid-race for your kit to malfunction. And as a minor point, the water stops weren’t entirely consistent with what was stated pre-race. Every five miles turned out to be more like this (as a rough guide); mile 6, 11, 18, 20 and at the finish (or end of lap for the 60/100 runners). Of course, I don’t expect a water stop right in the middle of a three mile section of the Pennine Way. But the lack of a water station around mile 25 meant for myself, I was tapping into what was left in my hydration bladder (mostly empty of caffeine drink) and a single water bottle which was intended for consumption with gels and basically as and when required. I had enough to get to the end though, and nobody else saw it as a particular issue, but 10 miles without fresh water just wasn’t something I’ve ever experienced at miles 20-30 of any race. Hey, I’m new to this ultra running lark!
The race had so much more going for it though. My own recce from the summer was invaluable on the day, but had I not done so, turning up and running the route for the first time on race day would have been just as reassuring. Incredibly well signposted on the day, it really felt impossible to go wrong. That’s what you want from a 30 mile loop where it would be difficult to get enough people to volunteer far and wide. So top marks to the organisers there. The scenery, like most places in Yorkshire, is simply stunning, from the Wessenden Valley to Pole Moor, to Scammonden Water and the hills over Marsden itself. The work you have to put in to see such sights though!

And on a personal note, I must thank Wane, the main man at Team OA and race director, for allowing me to participate in this race for free. This was a transfer for a cancelled race earlier in the summer and given the generally higher costs of entering an ultra marathon, that kind of generosity, whether in reparation or otherwise, does not go unnoticed. So cheers for a brilliant day Wane!

And as if the Canal Canter hadn’t taught me so, I’m in awe of the ultra marathon community in presence at the WRU. This is without question one of the hardest races on the calendar, absolutely worth its UTMB points accreditation, but beyond that is an indomitable spirit among everyone at this race who put themselves through the ringer, from the record breakers in the 30, up to the 100 milers staying out into the early hours in pursuit of the ultimate endurance goal, to those who did their utmost to finish and those who had to make the distance to drop out part way through. You’re all incredible. Its not about times, it’s not all about speed. Its determination, a mindset, the ultimate enjoyment of running. The pursuit, and celebration, of adventure and adversity.

But am I glad to see the back of this race? Yes I am. I found this such a punishing, gruelling race that I’m canning the long distance runs now until I begin training for the London Marathon. Its been a long, successful year, and with a couple of shorter December races to follow, I really have had enough for now of running even 10 miles at this point! I think I’ll simply take the time to ease back into running, enjoy the shorter distances and find the time to reflect on the amazing memories and experience I can take from this race.

White Rose Ultra official website

Taking The Long Path – reflecting on a year of endurance

Taking my mind and body into further, harder, longer territory as 2017 begins to wind down.

I realise that I haven’t reported much on how my training has been going this year, and I have a reasonably big race coming up this weekend. So I thought now would be a good time to reflect on the progress I’ve made as a runner in 2017. Not just in terms of results, but in relation to my overall fitness. I know – ‘its just turned November, aren’t you being premature?’, I hear you ask. But in the scope of major personal challenges, now feels like the right time to take stock.

Its been just over five years since I laced up a pair of trainers and set off running. I’ve considered myself a serious runner for about the last 3.5 years. As of now, I’ve had an absolutely fantastic year of running. Most importantly, I’ve not had such a truly uninterrupted run of injury-free running since 2013-early 2015, at a time when I seemingly couldn’t stop improving on my pace. Sesamoidits and knee pain caused by overpronation meant I lost much of 2015 to the former and the latter really affected my London Marathon preparation. Snowdonia Marathon training went much more smoothly but largely on three runs per week. It was only once I made the step up to ultra marathon, with training beginning in earnest from late 2016, after I’d put Bwlch-y-Groes behind me that I truly felt I was finding my four times a week groove again. I had a couple of hiccups at the start of this year – a self-inflicted drunken fall left me bruised and battered but I got up from that and a bit of ankle bother to do something I never thought I’d so – run a marathon distance training run.

And to my surprise, not only did I complete that run, I did so at such a controlled, measured pace that my recovery time was literally a few days and not weeks. No DOMS (or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness if you’re feeling wordy), no stairs that could leave me with fear and dread. I felt good and ready, and what followed a few weeks later was an unexpected best finish of my amateur running career. A second place, in my first ultra, of all places. And since then, I seem to have gone about racking up the miles, while collecting the odd good result here and there, and for a short time, flogging myself in the name of fell racing. But perhaps the most critical choice in my race calendar came when a race I was supposed to do, The Drop, got cancelled due to a lack of numbers. The race organiser (Team OA) allowed entrants to transfer to a race from their repertoire at no extra cost. I wasn’t drawn any of their races involving pie, ale, wine or chocolate, oh no. Just go for the big one, my heart said. My poor brain had no resistance. A few emails later, I was in.

The Butterley Spillway, one of the many sights of the White Rose Ultra. 26/08/2017

And so in just under 48 hours, I’ll be taking part in my second ultra marathon, the White Rose Ultra. It’s a popular ultra which takes place in the Wessenden and Colne Valley areas a few miles outside of Huddersfield, and having heard good things from fellow runners over the years, it wasn’t too hard to be convinced. There’s also a 60 mile and a 100 mile option for this race, but one lap of 30 is about enough for me, thank you. What is has meant is a training regime packed with hills, miles and all kinds of personal challenges (see my beach run from around 6 weeks back). And thankfully, I seem to have remained fit for all of it – barring this bout of the sniffles, of course.

Ogden Water, 23/09/2017

Running huge long training distances these last few weeks has been a joy to behold. As much experiments in nutrition execution as simply clocking up mileage, I’ve taken myself out to the far corners of Calderdale, be it Warley Moor, by way of the stunning Ogden Water Nature Reserve, or reaching out as far as Soyland on a recent marathon distance jaunt, it gives such a positive charge to have such freedom to roam and understand my body, and how it holds up against such demanding distances, and indeed demanding gradients. I even threw in a 20% uphill on a relatively ‘flat and easy’ 16 miler inbetween. I pretty much ran the entire hill. My quads felt like they’d suffered an earthquake, they felt like jelly, and yet somehow, a few miles later I had slowly worked the rumble out, and went on to finish the last 3 miles of the run with a 19 minute blast to finish the entire 16 mile run in under 2 hours. Its like I continue to ask my body ‘how high?’ and it just seems to clear every bar I set in its way. Sure, I’ve worked hard on swimming and made an improvement in terms of strengthening exercises, but I honestly feel very lucky, and appreciative, that my body has withstood this increase in effort and mileage.

The last few weeks have all been about my taper routine. Illness forced me to miss a couple of potential half marathons I wanted to run, plus a first meeting with my newborn niece, and had the usual ‘maranoia’ in the form of my right foot and left knee giving the odd grumble, but otherwise the mileage has continued to rise, and its been great this time to share my build up through group runs with the Halifax Harriers. A further motivation is in the form of a yearly challenge I’ve never once managed previously – to exceed 1000 miles in a calendar year. I thought I was on course to break my target this Saturday, but in actual fact, I achieved it during a routine run around my local park around 10 days ago! There seemed to be some synchronization issue with my Garmin watch which kind of pooped my parade, but nonetheless, to finally surpass that mark is a monkey off my back, and a testament to the ‘further, longer’ adage to sum up my year of running in 2017.

So in four days time, I’ll be lining up with hundreds of others in one of northern Britain’s most recognised ultra marathons, running 30 miles, across hills, roads, trails, past spillways, geological wonders and historical places (and possibly a bull!). I’ve got a couple of shorter races coming up in December, but this right here is the main event of my calendar year. And I’m going to enjoy it. Zero expectations of a result, regardless of how well my first ultra went. I still just want to get round this most difficult, challenging, Yorkshire of courses, just the once, and to get a hot meal at the end of it. To be able to celebrate this magnificent year of running, while I sit somewhat cathartically, enjoying whatever is left of my weekend before I have to face the rigidity of the office.

I’ll write up about my experiences at the WRU shortly, in the meantime enjoy running wherever you are, take in your surroundings and think about what lies beyond them. And then consider if your willpower and drive will take you there. For limits are always there to be pushed. And in running, there’s no shame in breaking through what you thought wasn’t possible.

Race Report: Ilkley Aquathlon 2017

Saturday September 16th, 2017

To club triathletes and seasoned multisporters, the Ilkley Triathlon & Aquathlon are highlights of the club & local tri calendar, and in the latter’s case, a fantastic introduction for junior athletes to get some early experience. Then there are people like me, who have never taken part in a full sprint or standard distance multisport event and basically want to have a go to see if they like it, or to have a bit of fun with the challenge.

In my case, the Ilkley Aquathlon had come to symbolize a little bit more for me. Just under 2.5 years ago, fresh off an incident at my local pool which led to me being dragged out before I got into further difficulty, I took part in the Go Tri Yorkshire Aquathlon, a 100 metre swim, and 1200 metre run. I swam the entire 100 metres head above water, but found it such an enjoyable experience that ever since, I’ve taken over two years of swimming lessons just to get to the point of being capable for this one race. If London and Snowdonia were my target races last year, this was arguably my target race this year. I’m now much improved, a capable front crawl swimmer who can move at decent pace (though not competitively fast), with a decent technique, and reasonable endurance. Though I’d never once swam 400 metres in one go, my swim training for this race left me believing I absolutely could. I was absolutely looking forward to this race, and absolutely couldn’t wait to take my first true step into the world of multisport, and one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a triathlete.

My trip to the race venue was going really well until I arrived, when I stepped on one of my elastic laces and snapped it, meaning I had to tie knots in it to prevent it from unravelling, and to keep it attached to my foot. Undeterred, and not reading into it as a sign of things to come, I walked to race registration and became reacquainted with the ankle tag – the thing they use in these events to time each part of your swim, transition and run consecutively. Even better was the offer of a free hat! An unexpected perk.

The setting out back was amazing. The lido was closed but it sits right with the backdrop of Ilkley Moor for company. I bet that’s a cracking place to be on a warm day. But I digress. The race briefing was given out by a man who looked not unlike WWE megastar John Cena. After he gave the crystal clear information to everyone, I proceeded to leave my vest, shoes and a towel in transition, convinced I would be fine with safety pins and not a race number belt, having carefully tried successfully to put the vest and pins over my head and over my t-shirt. With that taken care of, it was over to the spectator area. I wasn’t due to race until 4:47pm. I could easily have gone back into Ilkley for another hour or so, but to do what exactly? I thought I might as well soak up the atmosphere of my first aquathlon race proper. So I had my lunch and went out to the back where the run course was, walking once round it to get a good idea of the 600 metre route.

My race number (picture taken post-event)

In this country at least, the majority of aquathlon races (of which there aren’t many) are aimed at juniors getting into triathlon. So the first wave of runners where known as the Tri Start wave (for entrants born in 2009, would do two lengths of the 25 metre pool (50m total) and one lap of the 600 metre course. The three Tri Star groups, comprising slightly older children per category – Tri Star 1 (born 2007-08) would incrementally do four pool lengths and run two laps, Tri Star 2 (born 2005-06) swim eight pool lengths and run three laps, Tri Star 3 (2003-04) swim twelve lengths and run four laps up to Youth/Adult (born 2000 or earlier), doing a full sixteen pool lengths (400m) and five laps of the run course (3000m). Time passed, along with a passing rain shower that lasted for about 10 minutes, with barely anywhere to shelter. As I worried about changing into my now possibly wet shoes and vest, the rain subsided, the sun broke out a little, and the racing continued. At about 3pm, still just under two hours to launch, I went inside and observed the swim legs. There was a 10 second countdown for each event, and I keenly observed the swim pedigree of some of the older juniors, seeking an opportunity to just watch them go through their stroke and trying to observe the tumble turns, something I haven’t yet mastered. Although thankfully I wasn’t the only one. I would later get dressed into my swim shorts, then my hat and goggles, as time ticked down.
We were all briefed by one of the race marshals at the shallow end of the pool. There were about 10 or 11 of us. I generally have done well in races with smaller fields, but I wasn’t taking anything for granted given I was likely to come out behind in the swim. We were later assigned into lanes and (finally) led to poolside.

So this was it. After nearly 2.5 years, numerous swim lessons, and 22 prior waves on race day, it was time to get in the pool. I dunked my head into the water to check my goggles weren’t letting anything in. All good. I assumed the push and glide position as the 10 second countdown commenced. At 1, my head went under and the race began.

The first thing I noticed was the guy next to me was absolutely off like a rocket. By the time I’d completed 25m, he was already into his second length and by 50m he was already coming back to start his fourth length. But I wasn’t concerning myself with him. I just kept focused on completing the swim. But something wasn’t right. By 100m some sort of tiredness had crept into my right arm, and by 125m I was feeling very tired. I wasn’t trying to keep up with anyone, I was swimming how I normally swim. What on earth was going on? I made it to 150 metres and needed a few seconds to take a breather. I kept going and did the next 50m, but at 250m I had lost count of how many lengths I had left. I was taking an extra second or two at each end to gather myself. This was not what I’d come to expect.

I was getting a lot of encouragement from the volunteers to keep going though, and this was certainly keeping me from even contemplating the thought of not finishing. I certainly didn’t want to be the one ‘DNF’ on the results, having put so much into getting into shape to do the swim. But the encouragement poolside was helping me think positive and at 300m I was told I had four lengths to go. Finally, knowing the end of the swim was close, I got back to it and seemed to swim my best 100m of all. I knew I would grow into the swim, just not like this. In any event, I reached the end, to a few cheers from poolside and more encouragement from the volunteers. I climbed out and walked to the transition herehere, offering brief thanks and acknowledgment on my way out. I was the last one out.

A couple of years ago, at the Go Tri event I did, we didn’t have race numbers to attach, and I seemlessly got my shirt and shoes on that day. Here, I got my shoes on first, no worries. Now the vest – over it went. Then, it seemed to coil up, and just as I’d feared, the safety pins were causing a problem. That, and the fact I was still wet emerging from the water, it took a good 30 seconds alone to get the vest to cover my body. Then I’d realised as I left transition I’d forgotten to tighten my elastic laces, and bumped into John Cena who was coming back into the transition area. He was very apologetic but I honestly didn’t mind, I just had to get the awful transition behind me and get into my run. 

I always knew I could catch people up on the run, and so it proved here. Emboldened by my recent success in club handicap races, I overtook runners on the course which we all had to do 5 laps of. I worked out the best, least muddiest route and used this to my advantage, making sure to accelerate out of the tight angled turns with as much power as possible and in the end, completed the run without too much fuss. Upon receiving my time via a printout – 23:35 in total – I found out I was indeed the 3rd male. Out of four. Placing fourth overall.

As one of the top three men, I would be presented with a plaque. There was applause from those who’d gathered, and then that was it. Off to get my train back home.

My overall feeling was somewhat strange about the whole thing. I felt that my race, barring the run, had gone pretty badly and I felt I’d only won the plaque through sheer lack of numbers. I’d only come for the challenge and the experience. I was pretty ambivalent about receiving such a prize. That doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for it, but it kind of feels odd to see it sat there right now next to my trophies for the Sir Titus Trot and the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter, both races where I’d placed highly in a more competitive field. Family and friends, at home and on social media, were much more encouraging (one of my kids said ‘you know, third place is still a good place to finish!’), others reminding me that you can only beat who turns up on the day, and third is third no matter what. I’m not going to reject that reasoning either!

Sporting my race swag (post-event)

But as for an experience in multisport, it was definitely a valuable one. In hindsight, my somewhat bad swim is one I’m putting down to psychological factors – I’ve never swam competitively before, and it honestly feels like my body went into some ‘fight or flight’ situation despite my best efforts to treat it as any other swim. It won’t put me off trying again someday, but it does put into focus what I need to work on. Namely adapting to cope mentally in competitive pool swims, build my swim endurance, and, should I come to race an aquathlon again, or indeed a triathlon, for all that is sacred, get a trisuit and a number belt! Transition would be a lot simpler if I did.
All in all, a slightly chasening welcome to multisport was endured, but at a great local event. Anyone wanting to take part in a well supported local multisport could do far worse than turn up here during the weekend of the aquathlon and triathlon. I can honestly say the encouragement from those poolside got me through that swim, and I’m absolutely grateful for it! Granted, Ilkley is a bit out of the way for some – it took me just under 90 minutes using public transport from Brighouse, about 15 miles away – but you’ll get a great, no pressure experience here and not to mention a great magnet for the junior triathletes. A big thank you must go to the volunteers and marshals, and indeed Leeds Bradford Triathlon, for making this event a success year on year.

I’m also sorry there aren’t many photos – there was a strict policy on photos at the event due to junior involvement, parental permission, etc, so I kept my phone away. I’ve not found official photos either since the event, but that’s no problem personally. I still have the memories of the event itself. 

Thank you all for reading.

Ilkley Aquathlon event page

A Long Birthday Run on the Beach

I woke up on Saturday September 9th, at 3:46am, almost exactly 33 years to the very moment I was born. Yes, it was my birthday, but I had business to attend to. I’ve no other reason to be up at such an ungodly time (well, maybe, but thankfully not this time) other than to get on with my ultra marathon training. The White Rose Ultra, a mere eight weeks away, has a take no prisoners course that will surely take every last ounce of energy to get over the line. The training diary said 21 miles. There was no getting out of it, not that I had any intention of doing. Not even on my birthday. Not even on holiday. At Butlins Skegness. Again.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been here in the last few years, and on this occasion it was to celebrate my mother-in-law’s 50th birthday, the day after mine. I personally wouldn’t choose to come back time after time, but it has its perks. Its great for kids and families, and its got a beach nearby. And in planning for this holiday, and holidays past, I’ve come to realise it has miles and miles of coastline to explore.

My training has had to account for plenty of steep hills, being a Yorkshire lad. But in route planning I found I’d have to travel too far inland to get even the slightest mound to have to run up. So my only realistic option was to plan this run on the Lincolnshire coastal beach. Having run as far as 3 miles to the north of Butlins, and 3 miles to the south – Skegness itself – I had become used to its camber, and the difficulty in running across those sands. Basically, I had the perfect equalizer for these hills lying in the sands. But 21 miles was going to require a massive step up. Was I truly physically prepared? Arguably not – how often do I run on sand? Maybe a couple of times a year at present. And as for the beach itself, not being familiar with just the unpredictability of the terrain alone was a major red flag.

But did I feel mentally prepared (or indeed, ‘certified’)? Absolutely!

South from Butlins wasn’t an option – beyond Skegness is Gibraltar Point Nature Reserve, which would mean getting forced inland onto the roads as the beach would run out, turning mostly into wetlands until Norfolk. Too far, and somewhat less enamoured with that potential out and back through the streets of Boston. So it would have to be northbound. Beach was guaranteed on this route the whole way, joining from Ingoldmells, and running to Sutton-on-Sea, via Chapel St. Leonards, Anderby Creek, Huttoft and Sandilands, before doubling back.

Outside at 4:21am!

Headtorch and race vest equipped, and a little older (& wiser?), I set off from with the grounds of the holiday village and north towards Ingoldmells, home to Fantasy Island theme park and various brightly coloured bars and shops. Turning right, I soon swapped the darkened streets for the moonlit beach.

The tide out and the sand was relatively flat and firm, with streams of water trickling back into the North Sea as it pulled back and forth. The streams varied in width, but it didn’t make much of a splash even if stepped in. Still, I had to keep an eye on my footstep, and on how close the sea was to reaching my feet. At one point, near Chapel St. Leonards, it was right up against me, and I had to make a quick shift upwards to not get caught. I doubt it would have been a major issue – it wouldn’t have been an excuse to go for a swim, but I wouldn’t want to get into any difficulty while it was still dark. With that considered, my headtorch was certainly coming in for good use in the early stages, particularly to avoid one particularly squelchy section of sand.

Not everything was coming up roses however. A few years back I saw a seal on the beach before it quickly made a move back into the water. I’d longed to see another one in the wild since. And around five miles into the run, I did. However, it was lying on the sands apparently not moving. There were no obvious signs of harm, no signs of an attack or a fight, but I struggled to be able to tell if this particular seal was simply just resting or very much deceased. I, like many I suspect, have no expertise on how exactly to check a seal’s vital signs, so after a minute or so gently trying to startle it, I had to assume the worst and accept it wasn’t coming round, simply washed up by the tide by its harsh mistress, its natural habitat, the great sea. There was a part of me that hoped I was wrong, but by the time I came back it was gone, presumably reclaimed by the now incoming tide, which I’ll come back to later. I can only assume the worst, as I’m sure it would have been alerted to my presence if I was pounding my feet in the nearby sand if it had half an idea I was there.

Looking out to sea at Huttoft (I think), 9/9/2017

I was roughly 8:30 miling up to about 7 miles, at which point I was beginning to struggle against the terrain, but having run for an hour, it was a good time to practise my refuelling strategy, which today was to eat half an orange. About five minutes later, I went back into a jog, and then a run, as I made it to a relatively grippy and firm stretch of sand, meaning it wasn’t so much effort trying to dig in and therefore my gait felt freer. However the tenth mile became awkward, as the sands approaching Sutton-on-Sea became deeper, making them effectively unrunnable, if such a word exists. I reached my target destination rather slowly, but I was able to get to the promenade and all in all I could feel happy at this point. 1:32, bar stoppages. All in all a good 10.5 miles, and pretty much how I’d expected, if I could have any expectations beyond tough at all.

Looking out from Sutton-on-Sea

I spent a good five minutes or so here checking out the information about the Mablethorpe to Sutton-on-Sea Cycleway, while taking on some carb-based drink to refuel for the second half of the run. I opted to run the next mile or so on the cycle path, to avoid the deep sands that seemed so stifling. And also to try and make up a bit of time so I wouldn’t be too late getting back to Butlins. Or so I foolishly hoped.

I recorded a 7:34 mile for the twelfth, and had hoped I could carry a little of that pace back onto the sands when I rejoined. However, I quickly found myself struggling for grip again and the next mile went for 9:22. Any gains had quickly been lost, and so the scene was set for the remainder of the run. I had another recovery walk at 2 hours into the run, but in truth I was beginning to walk more often, be it because of fishermen, people who couldn’t control their dogs, or growing tiredness. I’d covered just over 13.5 miles though, more or less where I’d hoped to be, but was now running more or less in the plus 9 minute miles as the sun rose over the North Sea.

Sunrise off the Lincolnshire coast, 9/9/2017

Everything was being taken incrementally now. Mentally I was fine, but physically I was up against it, and my quads were starting to ache in a rather dull fashion, like I’d taken on one too many hills. That’s what running on sand all this time was doing to me. I was counting debris that I’d seen on the way out as markers. However, the tide was coming in, and it was doing its bit to accentuate that one thing you can count on the guide you home along the stands (unless the tide swallows them up, that is). Yes, footprints. Something as simple as that is the mark of any journeyman, and to see my footsteps now lined up against the gentle waves hitting the shore, brightened up by a glistening sunrise, was great motivation. To see where I’d come from, and to show how far I’d come.

Rather than now focusing on 21 miles, I chose to count down the miles to Ingoldmells itself – merely single digits, literally taking one mile at a time, trundling along in search of the skull and crossbones flags I’d noted when I entered the beach in darkness. Eventually I spotted Fantasy Island in the distance, and knew it wasn’t far to go. But my footsteps were slowing. My pace had dropped again and I was now working harder than ever to keep going. Any notion that it was my birthday had long been left behind. I was absolutely in the zone, only thinking forwards and looking for the flags.

Finally, there they were. I was almost at a walk when I trudged up the steps. Over the brow of the tiny hill, and at last, concrete. Firm ground. I had roughly a mile and a half left now, and I managed to maintain a reasonably slow and steady rhythm until I reached the holiday park, running through the car park and clocking up the big 21, stopping there and then.

I had done it. My crazy training run, over 80% of it on sand, was complete, and I took my creaking legs back to the apartment to return to the real world, and receive my birthday greetings from my wife and kids. I also got to give anyone sat in view of the balcony a view of my stretching ability, perhaps enforced by not wanting to get my sandy, muddy feet all over the furniture.

A fellow runner on the Facebook group, Running The World, had wished me luck before my run and warned that 21 miles on sand will sap the energy out of me. He wasn’t wrong. This was perhaps the most destructive run I’ve ever experienced. Had I run about another half a mile of beach I’d have been ready to collapse. My legs had got ridiculously heavy at the point of returning to Ingoldmells, it didn’t make a difference if I was running on flat sand or deep sand. I was still absolutely mentally clear, but physically, I almost had nothing left when I got back onto the road in Ingoldmells. This relatively flat sandy run was quite possibly the most gruelling I’d had since the one where I ran to Dovestone Edge and spontaneously started rock climbing. A good long sand run will absolutely compare with any hilly one and quite the feat of endurance if you can manage it.

But without question, this was absolutely worth doing. Even on my birthday, ultra marathon training cannot and did not stop, and this was exactly the kind of brutal training I thrive on to prepare for the rigours of what lies ahead in November. It was awesome to be running on the beach in darkness, the tide out, relatively easy to run on. Sheer willpower got me to the end, but I achieved my training target and amazingly the recovery aspect went really well. By the evening I was well prepared for the night of boozing I was treated to by two family members.

All in all, this was a great way to start my birthday, even if somewhat an act of self-flagellation, and across an absolutely amazing setting. This was incredible preparation as a training run for the White Rose Ultra in November. But I know I’d be crazy to ever attempt this distance on sand again!

Race Report: Honley 10K Trail Run

Sunday August 27th, 2017

I booked this race very early in the year, when trying to fill my race calendar out for the year. This one popped up in my Facebook feed in what I’m fairly sure was a ‘sponsored’ (aka ‘targeted based on your interests) post, with the offer of entry for a fiver. A fiver! Money was tight, but I couldn’t honestly complain at a cheap race entry. I had a nice run into Honley once as well. I generally like Huddersfield and its valleys, so I didn’t need much convincing and my entry was booked. Hooray for cheap races in the age of austerity!

Fast forward seven months later, and its fair to say that some might have seen this as an inconvenience, given what I’d signed myself up for in the meantime. You see, that race I was meant to do back in June, The Drop, where you get blindfolded and all navigational aids are taken from you, leaving you to get back to Huddersfield from wherever you get dropped off 5, 10 or 15 miles as the crow flies – it got cancelled due to a lack of sales. So as compensation, I was offered to transfer my entry into one of Team OA’s other races. Lo and behold, I chose to ignore the Pieathlon, the Wineathlon, the Halifax Marathon, the Chocathlon and even the Aleathlon, and instead went for ‘the daddy’ – the White Rose Ultra. 30 miles of wonderful valleys and brutal hills. Niiiiice…

Training for an ultra obviously demands respect, so how exactly to tackle an 18 mile run taking in the first 13 miles of the course roughly 24 hours before said ‘bargain race’. Don’t say easy, because the course is anything but, though aside from one or two hills early in the route, my run this day was far more tipped towards beauty than brutality.

One day earlier…looking down on Butterley Spillway, near Marsden

Nonetheless, it was a fine balancing act, but judging by the fact I came through unscathed, ache free, injury free and relatively recovered by early evening, I felt ready to get to the business of running a 10K course that to all intents and purposes, had become a slightly square peg in my training plans. Although it did get me out on a Sunday, so I can’t complain at the mileage overall.

The weather this fine day was absolutely cracking. The sun was out, with only a little cloud cover, and so it felt pretty warm even before I’d exuded any effort. I perhaps stood out a little in my blue Halifax Harriers colours – they were all at the Tour of Norland fell race a few miles away; I was very much among the whites of the Stadium Runners of Huddersfield. Nonetheless, I guess I was coming into the race on an upswing, rather than having tapered leading to it. Its worked for me in the past, so I was hopeful of a good run in club colours, even with that 18 miler hidden away somewhere.

Before the race

The race started just after 11am, with an out and back from the cricket club, through a gate and down into Honley Village. In previous years, the race ended with a climb through the village centre, but the course was now reversed to ensure minimal disruption to motorists by sending runners through before they got strung out. From here the run went up another climb, before levelling out as the race ventured into Honley Old Wood. I took a cup of water at this point as my mouth felt fairly dry, but nearly choked trying to take a mouthful at speed, so I eventually took a sip and discarded the cup not far from the stop – I very much doubted I was going to spot a bin to deposit it, and I wasn’t near enough to offer it to anyone else.

I entered the woods in fifth place, and the fourth place runner was in sight ahead of me. I wasn’t reeling him in, but I was doing a good job nonetheless of sticking to my own race plan and just about keeping them in my sights. I was following the red tape around the trees and remembering the exact route as per my race recce about 12 days prior. Into the next part of the woods, where it got a bit more twisty-turny before an exciting downhill section followed by a switchback to head back in the direction of Honley. Through the woods I continued, as the mud began to accumulate. My race was going well – I felt I was running confidently in a discipline I’ve not altogether been at ease with in race situations over the years. 

Running through Honley Woods

The woods then hit a slight climb but I managed to get up and over it to little detriment, and I briefly exited onto a section of road. Soon there was a right turn right into a vicious climb up to the original woodland area. Here is where my 18 miler the day before caught up with me. I opted to powerwalk than try to run it, each step feeling like it was sapping my energy. I could see the runner behind gaining a little, but I emerged at the top still in fifth. Through the woods I continued, until I reached a section which completely flummoxed me. I stopped, unsure where to go. The runner behind caught up, assured me I was going the right way, and went past me. I made sure I thanked him but I wanted the place back. I knew the next part of the race was going to get particularly narrow in places.
The race entered some fields which followed a wall on the left and included various stone stiles to shuffle round. After a couple of these, I managed to surge and got back into fifth by the next stile. Next, a narrow, long-grassed section, and then another path, which led to a series of open fields. The paths across them were clearly defined, as we’re the arrows at each stile. I made a beeline for each one. At the second or third of these, I gashed my knee. I didn’t bother to check the damage. I just knew I wasn’t shaking off the runner behind me. Over and around more stiles. We were now in the streets. Through another public footpath, and there was the playing field above the cricket ground.

Over the stile I went. Initially I ran a little bit wide and I could see the runner behind alongside in my peripheral vision. I put in a surge and made sure I stayed in front as I got to the final stile post down the side of the cricket ground. I kicked hard as we approached the final switchback, and kicked hard out of there, surging for the line and finishing in 5th place, in an official time of 46:48. Not my fastest time, but an excellent result nonetheless, adding another top 5 finish to my records dating back to the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon last year.

After the race
T’is but a scratch

I can reflect positively on my race, given the 18 miles I had to carry over in my legs from the day before. Its not a PB course by any stretch, and although I couldn’t keep up with the leaders, or get up one of those hills, I feel I’ve improved on the trails as a whole and it showed in this race, most notably in the muddy woodland section, where I can say I felt as confident as I’ve ever been in that element – it helps to have good shoes with great lugs, like, that actually grip – the number of times in the past I’ve been underprepared underfoot! But in so much as having the confidence to run to my best across such terrain on the day, this was definitely one of my better races overall, despite needing help to regain my bearings around 3.5 km from the end!

This is a cracking little race in a corner of Huddersfield that’s been going now for six years. I only paid £5 to enter as a promotional charge and it seems like the organiser, Rob, tries his very best to run this event on a small scale, limited budget. The route only went out about two weeks before the event, and this was posted on Strava and captured on video by the organiser posting a shoot of the route. The start/finish arch was borrowed from a well known local race events company. It appeared family and friends were helping with handing out race numbers, baking homemade flapjack and rocky road for the runners. There were no medals, no t-shirts, just pure racing to be had (although the first male & female each get a prize). The times were all ‘gun-timed’ – perhaps the only let down, as on more than one occasion I’ve had to point out I finished 5th, not 6th, and both mine and the 6th placed runner’s time should be a minute slower – I have a new/refurbished Garmin and photos to prove it! However not at all results were affected, and I can accept things like this can happen. This race has now been going six years, and its evident that Rob is passionate about making sure the race is accessible and an enjoyable experience. I certainly feel the event was a success and would love to see it remain a part of the local race calendar.

All in all, a great day out and despite the slight issue with the result, I’d recommend the Honley 10K is a great race to try out your trail running skills, and at a very reasonable price too. Not the easiest course but not a bad place to start, and in an absolutely beautiful corner of West Yorkshire too.

As for myself, I’ve now got to juggle the demands of further ultra marathon training with the imminently approaching swim training for the Ilkley Aquathlon in a mere 15 days time. Crumbs!

Cheers to Wane Law and Andrew Swales for the ‘action’ photos.

Honley 10K Trail Run website

Race Report – Hebden Bridge Fell Race 2017

Thursday June 1st, 2017
The Hebden Bridge Fell Race is the second of three fell races I’d earmarked for the year – four including Kilnsey, but that’s not happening now. Following my reasonable efforts in the Dick Hudson Fell Race on Ilkley Moor, I made it my intention to enter this race not just for the challenge, nor the experience, but to get back up that hill to visit the great black obelisk, Stoodley Pike, a site I visited on a walk in the summer of 2016 that really livened my spirit for journeying away from man and beast, if just for a few hours. Organised by the Todmorden Harriers, this race has attracted runners regionally and nationally since 2006, held on the first Thursday of each June and was now in its 11th consecutive year.

Unlike Ilkley, I didn’t get chance to recce the course – general life got in the way, and I found myself unable to commit to a morning or afternoon to navigate the course. Nonetheless, I had previously experienced the hills above the town on my adventures last year, so I had some background knowledge and was able to use my OS Map to study the course. I signed up a few days before the race without hesitation and for the first time was able to mark myself as a Halifax Harrier – although as a FRA (Fell Runners Association) race and not a UK Athletics race, the discount didn’t apply. £5 (or £6) is cheap as chips to enter a race, an attractive price for anyone from experienced runners to those new to the fells.

It was a gloriously sunny evening in Hebden Bridge, as evidenced by the blazing sunshine beaming down on Calder Holmes Park. I took the time to take in the sunshine, the River Calder, and head for a quick warm up jog out and back, clocking no more than half a mile. By 7:20pm, we were gathering the other side of the Station Road bridge, facing down where the start line was positioned.

The River Calder, Hebden Bridge, 01/06/2017

I did feel a sense of pride wearing my vest this particular evening – my first race not as an enthusiastic unattached runner, or as a charity runner – I was now part of a group. Although I’m fairly sure I only noticed one other Halifax vest, with many runners drawn from Todmorden (of course), the stripey Calder Valley Fell Runners, and there even seemed to be more Manchester Frontrunners in attendance. Nonetheless, I was on the start line, that’s what mattered.

Off we went. Immediately, something didn’t feel right. It seemed like nerves. Possibly because of the knee, but I got caught out by the pace of the start, and was overtaken on the inside by a good few runners. We then began the climb up through the woodland, which often bottlenecked and allowed for plenty of pauses to power walk and conserve energy. Once escaping the woodland, I seem to recall a narrow path which soon became a mix of flat and hilly sections, my speed at which quickened or slowed accordingly as I tried to traverse the terrain. My shoes weren’t helping – more than once I had to step to the side to tighten them as they didn’t seem to be supporting my heels so well – thankfully rectified by the halfway point – and so I struggled to maintain any real momentum, although I was gaining ground as the race ascended another level.

Before long, I was really starting to have problems climbing the terrain. I’m in tune with power walking and perfectly happy to use this method on a particularly steep hill, but as Stoodley Pike loomed ahead as to my right, I had very little power in my quads, and the result was an exhausted trudge to make the final metres to the top. Even on the final approach to Stoodley, I was struggling to maintain any momentum over what was really a perfectly surmountable hill. I mustered the strength to get to the top, touch the Pike itself and then head back, mercifully, down the hill again. At least now I could try and gather some momentum.

For the next mile or so, I seemed to go alright, occasionally interchanging places with other runners and making a fist of being competitive in the midfield. Towards the end though, my lack of experience started to show on the steeper sections, as foot placement on protruding roots became tricker, the inclines a little steeper, and I would have to cede one or two more places as the race returned through the woodland back to Calder Holmes Park.

To compound matters, there were one or two more roads which contained hills. Even after spending a long time coming down, I continued to struggle to ascend normally routine hills. It was similar to the Dovestone Edge run I did about 9 months ago – on that occasion I got to 13 miles before my quads gave up! Needless to say I felt pretty shattered, physically and psychologically by it all. Finally returning to the canal, I mustered one last hard effort to ensure I didn’t lose any more places. I crossed the line and promptly felt an overwhelming sense, not of accomplishment, but disappointment. A serious case of ‘that was fucking crap‘ overcame me, as I sat myself down on the deck. Not the race itself, but pretty much everything about how it went.

(I don’t often use curse words on my blog but that’s how I honestly assessed my performance. I wasn’t holding back!)

I took myself back to Machpelah, where I cleaned the mud off my legs (a bit), got changed into my Snowdonia Marathon t-shirt and opted to indulge in some fruit juice and ginger cake. I could have had a beer for £3, but what was there to celebrate really? I didn’t feel much like drinking alcohol, and even the slight surprise of finishing 35th (in a time of 54:53) did little to raise my spirits towards the race. I gladly made the short trip back to the train station before heading home. 

Had I written this in this immediate aftermath of the race, I could have come across far more negative than what I am about to say now. But I’ve had plenty time to reflect. I didn’t have a cracking night’s sleep beforehand, though I felt fine prior to the race. I don’t think the weather was a factor either – I felt warm but not hot, and at no point did I feel dehydrated. Maybe I paid the price a little bit for a recent lack of hill training – I spent a lot of time preparing for a fairly flat ultra marathon earlier in the year, and have only recently given hillier running again its full due. But ultimately, its my lack of experience in these races. I wasn’t expecting the earth in terms of a performance, but I at least always felt I could at least excel myself in these types of races. Instead, it seemed I had finally found something that’s not quite my forte – and indeed, finding my body had reached a limit that basically said ‘no’, and tried to hold me back again and again. And initially I found that to assess my performance as such. I realise I’m being overly harsh. I can more appropriately say it was a chastening experience, one which I hadn’t possibly foreseen but one which maybe I should. Brighouse has nothing you could class as a fell – a few hilly trails, but nothing more. A trip to Stoodley, or Ilkley Moor is a day trip to me. For some more localised runners, this is their bread and butter. I could just jack it in and argue I’ll never have a chance.

But that belies my own competitive spirit. I’ve not experienced a DNF yet. Or even a DNS. Even when I’ve struggled, I’ve found a way to finish. Even when I’ve got lost, or taken a wrong turn during a race, I’ve fought tooth and nail to make up the ground. And here, I took on one of Calderdale’s toughest races, and lived to tell you I was bloody awful, and still finished.

So I may well sack the Stoodley Pike 5K next month and instead redouble my efforts to get race ready for the Regent’s Park 10km later in July. I shouldn’t be lugging myself up a great big hill just for the experience when my chief focus is elsewhere. But that doesn’t mean I should ditch fell racing. Simply make sure I get out there, get some experience, build up my core strength, do my recce if I can, and take a look at the most appropriate challenges out there. I shouldn’t ever expect myself to win one of these things. All I want is to be competitive on the day. But I realise that everyone has an off day, everyone has a bad race in them, and mine just happened to be this one. There’s no time to sit around complaining, because my next race, The Drop Summer Sizzler, is right around the corner. Or at least it was, til it got cancelled due to low sales. But more on that another time.

A big thank you to the Todmorden Harriers and everyone who volunteered, marshalled and flagged out the course. 

Race info + results