I knew I'd had a good run in the Howarth Hobble when I was told I'd finished in 8th place and I'd knocked 10 mins off my previous time to come in at 4 hrs 45. As a V50 I thought there was a reasonable possibility that I'd won something. I was really excited. At the presentation, Brett announced "We're only awarding one V50 prize today" (That's OK, I thought). "So, coming in at 4hr 45" (Yes!) "the V50 prize goes to - Chris Davies." (Bastard!). Turns out Chris had beat me by some 32 seconds over the 32 miles.
Fast forward to the second race of the series, The Calderdale Hike: 37 miles 6,500 feet of ascent over road, track, path and featurless moorland. The route is a navigational challenge and you have to find your own way between a series of checkpoints. The route changes every three years or so and 2012 was a new route and so there was the extra challenge of trying to find the optimum route.
I recognised Chris at the start from the cyber stalking I'd done in the interim. It was fairly close last time - maybe I was catching him at the finish - maybe the extra few miles of the Calderdale would be in my favour- I'd reccied a few sections of the course, especially that part from Hoofstones - maybe that would be in my favour. Not that I'm competitive or anything. I bet my other half wishes I was as competitive in scrabbling up the greasy pole of career advancement.
Anyway, it had been a beautiful drive over and it was a nice and relaxed atmosphere at the start. I had been admiring the trophies, including the almost life-size model of Stoodley Pike. The veteran walker prize was a real thing of beauty, though: a bonsai version of a dry stone wall. I'd love to win something like that. But there is no veteran runner prize in the CH- that's descrimination that's what that is.
It was a beautiful spring morning and I was milling around at the start, trying to hold my stomach in for the film camera which was bizarrely trained on us as we milled. I was waiting for the long briefing of do's and don'ts to begin when someone announced out of the blue, "Right it's nine o'clock, off you go!" And we were off.
I was keeping an eye open for Chris and he passed me on the first descent after CP 1, but where everyone jinked one way at the woods, I jinked another and as a result I popped out onto the road well in front, but then lost it all again wandering backwards and forwards trying to find the start of the track up to Erringdon Grange - at least everyone else was wandering backwards and forwards behind me!
Then it was a long long spell of brilliant, worry free running, along the track, up to Stoodley Pike, a superb descent to the valley bottom and then reverse the Howarth Hobble all the way to the road at Lower Mount Farm. By this point the weather had decided to slip into something a bit cooler and definitely less comfortable. Chris Davies is a monster and he set a relentless pace through the snowy hail all the way up to the road, all the way up the road and all the way up to the Hoof Stones trig point some four mile of continuous climbing. There was a group of five of us at this point and I was enjoying the banter and camaraderie. Obviously at some point someone was going to ask, "Has anyone reccied the section from Hoofstones?" A harder man would have kept his mouth shut, dropped to the back of the group, and snuck off on his own. Instead I just said, "It depends who's asking..." Sometimes I'm my own worst enemy...
If there was a gentlemanly conduct award I reckon I would have won it on Hoof Stones. If you're reading this, fellas, I want you to fully appreciate what you got the benefit of there. I reccied that section twice. The first time was straight after the Heptonstall Fell Race - on Mother's Day - when I had promised to be home in time for my other half's Mother's day jamboree celebration. As a result of "Mother's Day-gate" my other half didn't speak to me for a week and I nearly had to promise that I wouldn't do the Fellsman.
The other time I took a day off work specifically to check it out again and I was rewarded by the discovery of a peach of a line. I don't think it's right to disclose the details of this line as it would spoil the adventure for everyone else.
So, past Widdop and the climb up to Withins Heights. Chris was still mercilessly driving the pace: our group was down to three and I was starting to suffer. I needed to get in some fuel. I used the excuse of rummaging in my bum-bag to drop back a bit, but the reality was that I just couldn't keep up. When we reached the top I had to give myself a proper stern talking to to get on terms again. Alan who was with us said something about the views. I'm sure they were nice.
From the Withens CP there was another little route choice but I thought that if they're going to stiff me on the climbs then I'm not going to announce this one. Anyway, I wasn't even sure whether this route was any good.
It turns out it was a really good route choice and I was significantly ahead as I headed down to Leeshaw Reservoir. I don't like running scared and so rather than try to maintain the gap I decided I would take a breather and get some food and drink and wait for them to catch up. So it was all back together for the big climb and descent to the Grains Bridge CP. Rather than reverse the Hobble route I took a route down the valley - this turned out to be a very questionable choice. Fortunately the lads came with me on this one or I could have lost out big time. At this point we were amazed to see someone catch us up and pass us." Must be someone on the short route." "Must be a front-runner who got lost." Nope. Kevin from Huddersfield had run a fantastically paced race, passed us and disappeared into the distance. Chapeau.
At the Old Bridge CP Alan announced cheerfully, "Only eight miles to go now," to which we all eagerly assented: "Aye, we've broke it's back now," completely ignoring the facts that:
- 8 miles is quite a long way;
- after 28 miles, 8 miles could be a very, very long way;
- about four of those 8 miles is steeply uphill.
The run over the top and the descent to Jerusalem Farm was really enjoyable and there was indeed a sense that we had cracked it. There was just a little matter of a three way race to settle...
Often when someone puts on the pressure then a group will naturally split as everyone gets into their own rhythm. But it was clear on the run down to Luddenden that no-one was going to give an inch. We were even taking the racing line along the road as if we were in a half marathon or 10k or something. The final climb is only 630 metres long, and you only climb 100 metres, but it seems so much longer and much, much harder. Half way up I tried to deliver the killer blow by breaking into a run and I managed about five strides before realising it was a very bad idea. So we were all still together at the top of that brutal climb as we came into the village by the church. The whole thirty seven mile race came down to a final four hundred metre sprint. I ran till I was very, very nearly sick and I was quite prepared to cross the line with vomit all down my vest. I reckon the other two couldn't run as they were bent over laughing. I must have come in around 30 seconds in front of Chris - work that one out you Runfurther points allocaters!
(Fellsman in two weeks. I reckon I'm only good for up to forty miles. Both Alan and Chris are entered. I reckon I'm in for a good kicking....)