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Thursday 19 June 2014

Whale Ale Relay Report: Beer & Running - It's a hard old life ...

My last relay had ended in collapse and the feeling that I was going to projectile vomit in the hedge. As this was a BEER relay, I had my suspicions that despite it being only 2 miles, this one might end in a similar fashion.

I’d been talked into this by Lozza, her sister Helen and Liz. I’d tried to wriggle my way out by complaining that relays weren’t my favourite things at the moment but they’d shouted me down; “There’s BEER and RUNNING. You like both of those things.” I couldn’t argue. I decided to pretend that instead of it being a relay running race, it was just a VERY FAST walk to the pub.

When I arrived, there were a lot more people than I’d expected, a mix of pub teams, club runners and what appeared to be part of a circus sideshow. There was what looked like a Village People reunion, Scooby Doo, some rather enthusiastic running cheerleaders (let's see you spell V-O-M-I-T after 2 miles fast running and 6 pints), the obligatory women-dressed-as-fairies and the bearded ladies. The 'Bearded Ladies' were confusing. I wasn’t entirely sure whether some particularly hirsute ladies were jumping on board the goatee-train or some shapely chaps were deciding to embrace their feminine sides with sequinned dresses. They weren't in my race category so I wasn't going to complain. Although I was tempted to go and ask for style tips. They were rocking the sparkles and trainers look.

Team Helen Wyatt (Helen decided to go with the modest method of choosing a team name) soon found each other and we took a few minutes comparing legwear. Without prior arrangement, we’d each turned up in a pair of our most eye-wateringly bright running socks. We may not win any relay prizes but should there be any award for the most retina-searing socks, we had it in the bag.

After a few minutes of bickering about placings, I got the last leg of the relay. I was relieved. No handover at the end, which meant less opportunity for me to drop the baton, mess up the changeover or accidentally trip up my team mate.

Helen was on the first leg and she left at top speed, making fast running look easy. Her diamond patterned neon pink socks flashing as she ran. We ran to the top of the park at about mile 1.5 of the 2 mile loop, in time to see her pass. Slow down Helen – you'll show the rest of us up! She even managed to smile and wave at the camera without falling over or gurning. Dammit Helen – you're making the rest of us look bad!

Lozza was already in the starting area, getting ready to receive the baton so Liz and I sprinted back down the park to cheer Lozza off. With all this running around cheering team mates, at least we were getting a good warm up before our races.

Lozza had had told us all she would be taking it very easy as she had her ‘A’ race in 2 days time. But as soon as she got the baton, she was off. Sprinting. Both feet off the floor, flying along! Sod PBs. If you want us Midlands girls to run, just put beer at the finishing line. Lozza sprinted around the park until she was out of sight, looking as though she was finding it all very easy and not at all as though she had a 70.3 Half iron Distance triathlon in 2 days. She flew round and was back to the changeover point in no time.

Lozza handed over to Liz who also took off at top speed. Her spotty socks bright in the fading light as she turned the corner onto the twisty lanes of the park. I got myself into the starting pen and started muttering the Relay Prayer to myself.

Relay Prayer: Don’t drop the baton, don’t trip up a teammate, don’t fart at crossover.

I heard a shout from Ali – supporter and photographer extraordinaire – Liz was coming around the last corner! Eeeeeek!! My heart rate rising and nerves reaching extreme levels, I watched the far corner next to the canal where Liz would be appearing and tried not to wet myself in fear of taking part in a another relay after the last disaster. At least there it was unlikely there would be ants in this relay.

I had been unsure how to pace a 2 mile run. I decided that to try 1 mile pace and hold on as long as possible would probably be the best way to blow up nastily at 1.5 miles, lose control of bodily functions and both defecate and vomit simultaneously in front of a crowd of spectators. Not good.

I decided to treat it as a fun run rather than worrying about pace and times. This was a fun relay – a BEER relay. There was free beer at the end. This relay was ALREADY a win. So I decided to sod pacing. I'd run it gently, just try to collect overtakes and my main goal would be to not lose the baton on the way round the course. All I had to do was trot round and collect a beer at the finishing line.

SPOTTY SOCKS!!! I recognise those socks! It's Liz! Muttering the Relay Prayer, I grabbed the baton from Liz and caught up in the excitement, set off at a mad sprint which I maintained until I looked at my watch.

Ooh. Can’t maintain this pace. Legs won’t slow down. Never mind It feels ok at the moment. Just overtake that person in front of you. Collect the overtakes. Slow down Man or I can't overtake you! Gotcha. Cyclist in front of me. Why is there a CYCLIST? Can I catch that man in black who looks like a running ninja? No. Argh! Path is narrowing and the cyclist is trying to overtake me … it's all going to end in tears and broken gears. Phew – she let me go first. I must already have my 'Mental Runner' face on. Dammit. That doesn't usually happen until at least mile 2.

Dammit why am I still running this pace? Just try to BREATHE. (Pants like dog)

Onto the pavement, round the pub, a brief smell of beer and peanuts. Back into the park and along a long straight path shaded by trees, more people in front. Overtake, overtake, am like a lycra dalek! One goal … not to be dead last.

Overtaken by an older man who sped up and disappeared into distance. Push! Just get past this tall man who swerves as though to avoid being overtaken (disliking being overtaken by a girl?), down a steep slope and a sharp right turn. I’d been looking forward to the downhill but it was too sharp and the turn too steep to take advantage. Legs also working at almost their max not happy at the change of pace. Man who overtook me is running in the distance in a blue shirt.

Into the car park! Ooh my car! Past my car and up to the corner. Overtake that girl! It's my friends! My friends! Shouting and cheering me! A HUGE boost and I’m back into the park proper and just 3 sides of a square before the finish line. Legs waking up now – the finish arch so close! Can I catch the man in blue? Don’t get overtaken!! Push! Legs flying. Can’t quite catch him. Under the arch, legs slowing, Helen to welcome me in. My head is spinning and I have the ‘don’t want to sit down’ but ‘don’t want to keep going’ feeling. Legs won't stop.

Well if the legs are going to keep going, then they may as well keep going towards the beer tent.

We received our free beer which was claimed by having a cross put through the running numbers pinned to the front of our vests. Bottles were handed over the bar and we stood in the warm dusk outside the beer tent. Happily we drank together, pleased with our little selves and our tired legs.

Beer doesn't taste any better than this.

We stood there, chatting, talking over our relay legs. Beers in our hands, friends around us and a good race run. Then suddenly … our names over the tannoy. What? Winning ladies team? There must have been a mistake. We're doing this for fun! And for the beer! We were assured there was no mistake and a little plaque was handed to each of us. The perfect end to a great evening.

And the relay prayer? Well 2 out of 3 wasn’t bad.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Hilly Hundred Race Report: Ant Arse & Never Leave Your Banana Unattended

“This is MY distance!” I thought as I charged up the hill.

I was running leg 8 of the Hilly Hundred team relay and I had 10 miles to run from Moreton-in-Marsh to a village called Paxford - where my teammate was waiting for me to hand the baton over – and I was LOVING it. The sun was shining, I had hills to run and my starting point had been the pub! Plus I was also pretty sure there would be a pub at the end too. Most good English villages had a decent pub, right?

I knew the area a little bit – it was all very English, neat hedges and banks full of Cow Parsley and dandelions, fields lying like patchwork squares over the rolling hills and dusty lanes winding through them, all under a sky as blue as forget-me-nots.

And I was running through the middle of it all enthusiastically with my grey relay baton clasped firmly in my sweaty hand.

The route was a hilly one – I’d seen the total elevation map on a t-shirt for the entire 100 miles and it looked like a heart rate monitor reading. But I wasn’t fazed, I LIKED running hills. I enjoyed it all - the hard push up the hill, the views at the top and the exhilaration of running down the other side and seeing the good numbers on the Garmin. There was satisfaction in that.

I was on the mass start at 1pm on what was to be one of the hottest days of the year so far. I don’t run well in heat, but there wasn’t much I could do about it so had slathered on the sun cream, whipped out my cheap sunglasses and gone with the short shorts. If I was going to have to run in ridiculous (for England) temperatures then at the very least I was going to get a tan out of it. (For ‘tan’ read ‘more freckles’)

I had Googled the elevation of my relay leg and was pleasantly surprised. I’d been expecting a few more hills, but it looked as though there was about a 2 mile climb which started at 1.5 miles and was at its height at 5 miles, then it was all downhill to the end. Like a pyramid but with running instead of sand and camels. Sounded pretty good to me and it meant as soon as I got to the top of the first hill I could push on knowing there wouldn’t be any nasty hills hiding further along the route.

The elevation profile I'd found on Google ...

My tummy had been roiling in the car on the way there. I get so nervous before races and even more so when I think there’s a team depending on me to try and run my best. I don’t know why I get so anxious – if things go wrong, they go wrong. I wouldn’t put pressure on anyone else, but can’t seem to help doing it to myself.

I arrived at the start which was ‘The Swan’. It had a beer garden and a comfortable bench. Things were looking up already.

Photo Credit
There were a few runners from other clubs waiting for the mass start at 1pm so we all got chatting about the usual ... what races have you done recently (are you faster than me?), what club are you in (are you competition?) and who are you here with (if you’re faster than me and I push you in the hedge will anyone see?).

There was an air of competitiveness, but it was friendly and there was a nice sense of camaraderie. It seemed as though a lot of people did their 10 mile relay legs and then followed their team members in cars or on bikes or in their cars offering support and water. It was an unmarshaled course so there were no water stations or marshals giving directions. Apparently there were small arrows on some of the signposts but a few had been tampered with so it was a case of use your map and get yourself to the end. Or try to keep someone in front in sight and hope like hell they knew where THEY were going. I was going for the latter tactic.

As it was so hot, I was running with my ultra vest and 1.5 litres of water. I’d brought some gels and planned to try and approach this race like I would a half marathon. I’d never raced 10 miles before so it would be a PB even if I came dragging in at the back of the pack having lost all the other runners and my map. And probably my sanity and love of hills.

I finished my coffee and regretfully gave up my sunny spot to start pinning my number, checking my shoelaces and studying the map. Vinny and Tony from my running club arrived and it was nice to see 2 other Northbrook Sunburst vests. I was pretty sure they knew the way and thanks to Tony’s height I was relying on being able to see him over the top of the hedges to give me a clue as to which direction I should be going.

Looking overenthusiastic. And gurning for some reason.
Apparently we were running to the highest point in Warwickshire. Oh. But apparently it was worth it because of the amazing views across the yellow rapeseed flowers. Oh good. Couldn’t I go and look at some flowers on a flat bit instead?

The race briefing went something like this. “You can’t get lost. Just aim for the hilliest bits. GO!”

The man from the Godiva Harriers set off at a blistering pace, through the centre of Moreton-in Marsh, pedestrians and market stalls flashing past. I attempted to keep up but when I checked my Garmin and saw I was running at about my 400m pace, I decided that this was possibly my worst idea since my I-know-let’s-all-see-how-many-99p-burgers-we-can-eat plan. That ended in vomiting and wanting to crawl into a hedge and die too. I let him go (like I had any other option) but bellowed after him; “I hope you know where you’re going as we’re all following YOU!” and gave him a big grin. No pressure there then Mr Speedy Legs!

We turned off the main street of Moreton-in-Marsh and into a peaceful country lane. I slowed my pace down a bit – I had to remember I had 10 miles to run today. It was a pleasant temperature under the trees with the sun dappling the stones of the lane. After slowing, I was expecting a flood of runners to come past but the only set of footsteps behind me belonged to Northbrook Tony who comfortably overtook me, chasing the Godiva runner who I could just see in the distance.

No-one else was around now, just the two figures in front and me and the pat-pat-pat of my footsteps in the quiet lane.

Up the hill, a gentle slope, but we then cut right as per the map and onto a short downhill. Huh. I hadn’t expected this but assumed it was too small to show on the elevation profile, left turn again into a small lane which stretched upwards. Ah ok ... so this must be The Hill. After which it would all be downhill to a glorious finish. And hopefully a cold pint.

My map of the relay leg route

It was peaceful and still, the hot sun on my shoulders – almost as though I was running alone although thanks to the height of my Northbrook team mate I could occasionally see his head bob along above the top of a distant hedge.

It was glorious running along in the sunshine, the dusty road under my feet – eyes set to the horizon and the relay baton clutched in my hand. I couldn’t help smiling. This was a brilliant race, winding lanes, hills and a nice long distance you can get your teeth into. Yep. 10 miles is definitely my distance, I told myself.

Although, I couldn’t help noticing that despite having climbed a monster hill, the hedges were high and there was no sign of the amazing view promised. Or even any yellow rapeseed flowers. Consoling myself with the thought that maybe the person who had mentioned these drove a Land Rover or double-decker bus or something that could see over the hedges to the views, I had a brief moment of self-doubt. What if my downloaded elevation map was wrong? That there might be another hill? Nah. I dismissed the thought. I’d done my homework, downhill to the finish and the pint.

Over the top and into a blissful downhill. Lovely! This is more like it. But I can’t help noticing that I’m running down into a valley shaped a bit like a bowl. How exactly do I get out of this valley without going up a hill? My downloaded elevation map PROMISED me no more hills! Bloody map. Bloody Google.

I got to the bottom of the dip and followed the hedges round and yet again the lane stretched upwards. I huffed a sigh and urged my legs onwards passing a horse and rider and a cyclist. Eventually. We were all going uphill, my speed wasn’t up to much and I didn’t want a race photo with a hoofprint on the forehead.

This was the hill that just kept on giving. Every time I rounded a corner, there was more UP in front of me. Stupid up. Where’s the down?

Slogging my way up this transplanted-and-transported-to-Warwickshire-Alp I spotted some yellow flowers through a gateway. Right. This HAS to be the highest hill. Please. Let this be the highest hill. Let this be the LAST hill ...

I used my tried-and-tested tactic to get myself up the hill. My legs were going on strike and my head was telling me to walk. I picked a landmark and ran to that. Told my head and legs that I just needed to run to the landmark. Just to the next shadow, just to next telegraph pole, just to that piece of cow parsley. And kept picking landmarks. And then I was at the top.

And looking at the next hill. Bloody hills.

My pre-hills-of-doom race plan had been to just get up the hills steadily and then make up time by relaxing and running faster on the down hills but I hadn’t counted on my legs being replaced by what felt like wooden pirate peg legs. They were still moving but they were refusing to move any faster. In fact they wanted to stop. Nope. No stopping. Faster run, faster pint.

Cars were leapfrogging me, overtaking me in the lanes then stopping in a gateway or at a junction and pouring out water ready to give to their runner. They were supporting their own teams but all acknowledged me and encouraged me and several asked if I wanted water. It was great that despite it being different clubs competing we all wanted everyone to do well. However, it was also a reminder that if I DID stop or took a walk break, there was someone just behind me who would overtake me.

The cars were annoying as the lanes were so narrow, but the drivers were courteous and passed me as safely as they could. It also kept me running. And guessing. “That car overtook me much quicker than last time – their runner must be gaining on me.” Push, legs, push!

No-one had overtaken me since Northbrook Tony in the first mile and every time I slowed to climb a hill or didn’t push hard enough down a hill, I expected someone to come tearing past me. Running down a hill at about mile 4, I heard footsteps behind me but I didn’t dare look behind. I couldn’t go any faster and sustain the effort on these hills. My gradient map was obviously wrong and I have no idea what’s coming up. If someone is catching up I don't want to see. I just couldn’t push it any more. I was hurting. How can it only be mile 5?

Somewhere during the run, I seemed to have picked myself up a mantra. It appeared to be stuck on repeat and went “Just one more hill? (sees another hill over horizon) Bother. Just one more hill? (sees yet another hill over horizon) Bother....”

It wasn’t just the hills that were causing me problems now. The heat was intensifying. I was trying to run in the shade from the trees, but the problem with starting at 1pm was that there weren’t a lot of shadows I could run in. I was glad I was wearing my trusty Poundland sunglasses. Cheap AND cheerful plus if I sat on them and squished them (the usual demise of my sunglasses) then I could get some more for the price of a car park ticket. Also they made everything LOOK cooler, although this was confusing my body and eyes and they were arguing about who was getting the correct info. I let them carry on. So long as my eyes and body were bickering, they weren’t telling my legs to stop running hills.

And there was always another bloody hill.

My plan of keeping a steady effort up the hill and hoofing it down the other side was being replaced by plan B which was ‘everything is too much effort but don’t stop’. I was plodding and boiling hot, I didn’t seem to be able to get enough water out of the water bladder and I was feeling like hell. I was trying not to get to plan C which was ‘collapse in road and hope someone will find you and carry you to the finish line’.

I remembered an article I’d read on Runners World about ‘Head Vs Body’ and how a lot of running suffering is actually our head telling us we can’t do it and briefly I had a spurt of energy. Very brief. Which dried up at the start of the next hill. Nope. It’s definitely my body telling me to slow the hell down.

Can I stop or will team be disqualified? Please let me stop! What if I fall over? Or lose the baton? All of this was going through my head, but I was still running. I wanted to stop, but wouldn’t slow down to walk as then I’d be overtaken by the runners I was sure were behind me. How’s that for fuzzy logic? Although I did notice that while I was having this internal dialogue I was actually running better as the voices were distracting me.

So ... if a car hits me I can stop?

It felt like an endless Groundhog Day of uphills and downhills. Just more and more miles of lanes and hedges and hot, hot sun and more hills. More bloody hills.

I passed a race supporter’s car, who had been leapfrogging me, for the umpteenth time. “Nearly there!” he shouted. I was suspicious. What is ‘nearly there’ to a supporter? Another mile? Another 2? I’m pretty sure I’ve shouted “Nearly there” to a marathoner at mile 15. Maybe this is karma.

I came round the corner and onto a main road. Just keep pushing, keep running. I passed a turning on the right. Was I meant to turn there? I was lost, there was no-one to follow. Just keep running. The Bad Runner voices started in again; “You’ve gone the wrong way!”, “You’ll have to backtrack a mile!”, “You’ll never make another mile – look at you. You’re done in!” My legs kept going.

A car slowed near me – it was my family. “Well done!” Shouted 4yo from the back.

“I think I’ve gone wrong.” I shouted to The Mr. “I feel like I’m running through treacle and hell and I might be running in the wrong direction.“ I kept running and the car screeched off and reappeared a few minutes later. “You’re nearly there! There’s a turning on the left!” The car disappeared again.

Left? Their left? My left? Which is left? My brain wasn’t working any more. I was so close, I just had to keep going. Just keep going. Legs don’t fail me now.

A turning! That’s a turning! Is that left? I have NO idea.

Veering across the road. Is that Liz from Northbrook? Can I stop? No. I’m told to keep going.

Left foot, right foot, left foot ... please let me stop ... runner coming the other way ... won’t take the baton.

“I’m not on your team” and they run on.

Someone please take the baton, I can’t stop until then, why won’t they take it? Left foot, right foot, a club vest I recognise, the baton is taken. Left foot ... and down.

Feeling RUBBISH!!

I rouse myself to find:
  1. 4 year old has eaten my recovery banana.
  2. Ants are eating my arse.

Yep. I finished my relay leg, crashed out on the bank for some recovery time during which 4yo finds my banana and eats it. Ants then discover I am sitting on their house (Hill? Nest?) and are exacting revenge by snacking on my arse.

Apparently I did some amazing dancing.

What did I learn?
  • Ants are evil.
  • Hills are evil.
  • 10 miles is NOT my distance. At least not if there are massive hills.
  • Don’t try and chase people quicker than you.
  • Don’t give your relay baton away to an opposing team. You’ll be standing there looking confused when you could be sitting down.
  • 4 year olds snaffle your recovery food given half a chance.
  • Don’t trust downloaded elevation maps.
  • I was running in the hottest place in the country on the hottest day of the year. 

The actual elevation profile. Damn you Google!!

Garmin info here
I was 10th overall for my relay leg (3rd on 1pm start) and 1st lady.

Monday 9 June 2014

Yorkshire 3 Peaks: My girlie weekend - 3 girls, 25 miles, 3 Mountains & lots of snacks.

I had a girlie weekend planned. However, rather than packing the heels, lipstick and vodka, I would be packing my trail shoes, ultra vest and crème eggs and heading up to the Peak District to meet up with Sarah A and Anna.

We hadn't met more than twice ... and we were going to all stay together for a weekend in the mountains with the locals. Yes, it does sound a bit Deliverance. You can practically hear the banjos.

Sarah A was a super-quick running buddy I’d met at the Runners World Asics 26.2 bootcamp and who I shared camp with at Thunder Run 2013. Anna was a speedy friend from running club, but she’d moved house and I’d moved clubs and we hadn’t seen each other for 2 years. And Anna and Sarah had never met.

But we shared a few things: A love of wine. Proud parents of multiple pairs of trainers. Running circles on a track was our idea of hell … and running mountains in the rain sounded like our idea of a PROPER girlie weekend.

A plan was hatched.

3 Mountains and 25 miles of running … within 8 hours.

We stayed over in the Seed Hill Guesthouse which was welcoming and friendly. They offered a brilliant cooked breakfast but I regretfully declined the offer of sausages, thick bacon, mushrooms and eggs knowing that seeing it again halfway up a mountain – probably with the wind blowing it back into my face – wouldn’t be a highlight of the day. Sensibly I went for porridge and cheered myself up with the thought of the ridiculous amounts of snacks I’d packed into my running vest to eat on the way.

The car parks were full but there was a field down the road with an honesty box. Honesty box? I honestly didn’t want to pay for parking in a field but put a couple of quid in thinking that if I was a couple of quid short of my massive fry up at the end of a run, then I’d be back here with a knife trying to hook them back out again.

As is law when attempting the Yorkshire 3 Peaks loop, we started at the Pen-Y-Ghent cafe in Horton-in-Ribblesdale. We clocked in using the old fashioned clocking-in machine which stamped our cards with the time and a satisfying ‘clunk’ noise.

We passed our stamped cards over the counter, ran to the door ... and ground to a halt. And stood outside under the porch waiting for the torrential rain to ease. There’s getting a good time and then there’s getting really wet. And we’re girls.

It didn’t seem to be stopping. The postman’s red van sped down the road, splashing a tidal wave of water up the pavements. Why did we choose this weekend to run mountains?

We waited 5 minutes for the rain to ease – or at least look slightly less torrential - but it didn’t. Not even one foot on the path and I was already regretting my decision to go with the splash proof jacket rather than the waterproof one. Oh well. It seemed Drenched Rat was to be the look of the day. I’d just have to run harder to stay warm.

However, the rain DID stop halfway up the first mountain. It turned into hailstones. As they bounced off my nose and pinged off my shoulders I consoled myself with the thought that at least I wasn’t getting any wetter.

As we ran up the slopes of Pen-y-Ghent, the wind was actually whistling. Whistling properly. It couldn’t hold a tune as well as the milkman but when I’m halfway up a mountain and the wind is whistling, that’s when I know I’m doing proper running.

But there did seem to be an awful lot of UP. But I consoled myself with the thought that there was probably a good downhill on the other side. Or failing that, at least a pub at the bottom.

There’s a small amount of climbing to get to the top and up to the trig point. Once there, we posed for a quick photo before starting the run down the other side of the mountain.

Anna told us in no uncertain terms that we weren’t running fast enough down the mountain by showing us how to do it. This involved throwing yourself down the steepest side and waving your legs at the ground disappearing beneath you until some contact was made, at which point you threw yourself off again. Sarah and I watched, very impressed and completely unable to keep up. Anna, running hard, threw herself gracefully down a steep slope before promptly ballerina-ing herself into a bog.

She picked herself up, brushed the mud off of her arse, started running and quickly gained all her previous momentum back again. So that's how you do it, I thought. Looks like fun. Apart from the bog bit. And besides if I fall over and roll all the way to the bottom, it’ll probably be quicker than running down anyway. Using Anna’s technique of throwing myself downwards, I quickly got enough speed up that my eyes were watering (or possibly I was wetting myself in terror and the speed was forcing the urine upwards).

We were passing walkers and hikers in a blur and they stared as we went past. I’m hoping they thought we were awesome, but they were probably hoping for comedy and more ‘falling-into-bog’ moments. “This is BRILLIANT!!!” I screamed as I ran past trying to justify our suicidal descending methods. One screamed back “You’ll kill yourselves”. Gathering enough breath I shouted “We have a doctor with us!” And pointed back at Sarah who was demonstrating her faith in the local NHS hospitals by following with just as much speed and craziness.

Breathless and laughing we got to the stone wall and looked up at the mountain we had just fall-run-leapt down. That was brilliant. And we have 2 more mountains to practise that on.

We trotted on, keeping the pace steady, passing the occasional shaggy sheep and dry stone wall. The route had been neatened recently. The paths are now no longer black lines cutting across the grass, but cinder paths. The Yorkshire 3 Peaks has been tidied up and tamed. It’s still a trail run but not grass and stones and mud, but neat cinder paths and gravel and large flat stones. I can understand why as many thousands of people walk and run it every year and the paths had zigzagged and wound across the fields and probably caused damage. It’s better for the land, but not so fun to run.

However, despite this there was still mud. Significant amounts. Overtaking a group of lads and watching one in a most unsuitable – and unattractive – pair of flesh coloured trousers slip and land on his arse, I couldn’t resist a small smirk at his misfortune and the decoration of his legwear. They were a much better colour with the addition of the mud and his girly scream cheered us all up.

However schadenfreude and my resulting smirk were too much for karma and deciding enough was enough, karma kicked me in the arse ... and I managed a beautiful splat straight into the smelly mud. I’d like to claim it was graceful, balletic and controlled. It was not. With flailing string-cut-puppet arms, I’d managed to twist as I fell to gain maximum mud coverage. I looked like half a chocolate Santa.

Mud was in my mouth, in my ear, up my legs, all over my hands, in my pockets and bizarrely INSIDE my vest. I looked exactly like a smug twat who’d fallen over in the mud because she’d been smirking at someone else who’d just fallen over in the mud. I’d also managed to knock my knee on a stone at the same time. I walked a few steps to test it, it wasn’t too bad and we were soon running again, leaving behind the mud and the yelps of the lad in the flesh-coloured trousers as he fell over again.


The distance between Pen-Y-Ghent and the road to the viaduct, which usually seems to take so long, disappeared in a blink of mud, running, good conversation and snacks. Bizarrely Anna had seen one of her uni friends enroute who had also chosen today to do the 3 Peaks proving that you really can’t go anywhere without seeing someone you know. We stopped at the main road for Sarah A to change her jacket and pull all the buckles off of her running pack and I got a breather and some snacks scoffed while she tried to work out the puzzle of how to reattach all her straps.

There was a mile or so of running on a twisting road, where we had to run single file to avoid the cars and the red postman’s van which swerved confidently around the corners avoiding, walkers, runners and the occasional lost sheep. The road was easy running despite our trail shoes and we soon came to the foot of the viaduct at Ribblehead which seemed to stretch for miles, high and portentous, leading towards Whernside, our second mountain.

The weather was warm now and we’d left the rain and hailstones far behind us. The skies were heavy, black and ponderous but for now the sun was shining and we had mountains to run.

But first ... a selfie in front of the viaduct. However we hit a snag, none of our arms were long enough to fit all three of us into the photo without some sort of acrobatic feat or Stretch Armstrong style elasticity. We accosted a lady and her husband to take a photo of us. She seemed a little reluctant to accept my phone for the photo taking, then I realised the phone was still full of mud and she was being asked to take a photograph by what must have appeared to be some sort of bog monster. I brushed myself and the phone off as best as before posing for a pic.

She still appeared a little confused but we stood in a row and smiled dutifully as she counted loudly to let us know when she was pressing the shutter button. We thanked her and continued onwards, not realising until later that evening that she had in fact pressed the video button and we had a lovely video of her counting while telling her husband off for offering his advice and opinion on her photographic skills.

With unerring judgement, Sarah A decided she needed a wee just as we were in the middle of the busiest point on the route. However, when you have to go you have to go. And there’s no arguing with a bladder.

She found a railway tunnel which seemed to offer seclusion but then spotted a group of people on a hill opposite. With binoculars.

You don’t realise how many people are around until you need solitude for a wee.

Slightly put off, Sarah A managed another half a mile run-stagger before deciding she couldn’t wait and she would hop behind the dry stone wall lining the path. She waited until the path was as clear as it could be on a path full of assorted hikers, runners and walkers. Finally it was just us and an old man ambling up the path. She hopped over the wall and just touched the top stone ... which fell ... then dislodged a few others and they knocked a few others which started a stone wall avalanche. The path which had been empty was now full of people again whose focus was on the stone wall being noisily demolished. And the person having a wee behind it. Eventually, the rumbling stopped and the dust cleared and Sarah - embarrassed but bladder relived – clambered out from behind the pile of stones. The old man sniggered.

I always find Whernside the toughest mountain of the Yorkshire Three Peaks. You’ve got about 3 miles of just crawling uphill. Not steep enough to climb, but just steep enough to be really uncomfortable on your calves and knees as you run. It’s a soul-sapping, boredom-filled slog, most of the way paved with stone slabs slippery in the now-constant rain. I hunched my shoulders against the cold and tried to speed up to stay warm. We were alternating walking and running as the slipperiness of the slabs and the numbers of people on the path meant we had to keep stopping and starting. However, we got a bit of a kick up our collective backsides as we were overtaken by a couple of men running strongly who were hopping on and off the path onto the sodden boggy sides to avoid the plodding walkers. We looked at each other and sped up. We’d been using the slowness of the walkers and the weather to take a breather.

Overtaking the walkers, I was surprised how many were wearing headphones or just blasting out music from phone speakers. The weather was pretty rubbish, but it seemed mad that they were choosing to climb (well … walk) up a mountain but only getting half of the experience. They were missing out by blocking out the sound of the birds and the wind – and the ‘excuse me’ of someone trying to pass them safely - using the anaesthetic of crappy music.

I can only assume that they had been FORCED to come out here today and had to block out the misery of being forced away from the latest soap episode or BGT by blasting pop music into their ears.

Maybe I had it all wrong and they were listening to an audio commentary of interesting things to look out for on Whernside. But I doubted it. However, even the Music Zombies these were better than the Stabby Walkers. People who came out with walking poles but unable to use them or unsure how, they tucked them under their arms or waved them around like they were fencing with an invisible assailant.

Each of us had a near miss with someone waving poles around. My narrow escape was by walking behind someone who was throwing their poles out behind them with each stride as though attempting to skewer something creeping up behind him. A sneaky axe murderer possibly. Or a distracted runner muttering about Music Zombies.

Most people were friendly and let us pass safely – some even gave us a clap or a “well done” for running up the mountains they were walking, although of course there are always a few who don’t want to move and block the path deliberately. We were always courteous though and only passed where it was safe and easy to do so.

Soon, the slog turned into a steeper climb and as we came closer to the summit of Whernside, there was thick cloud cover but no real wind. There was about 25m visibility so you could see 2 or 3 people in front of you but not much more. The path wasn’t so wide here but it was smooth dirt and jutting stones so run-able despite the low visibility.

As the path narrowed, I kept the wall and the fence on my right and just powered upwards, Anna and Sarah somewhere behind me in the mist. The path was too tight to stay side-by-side so I concentrated on just keeping my head down and getting to the top. The wall at the summit of Whernside is solid and has a narrow gap in it you have to squeeze through to reach the trig point. I think I’m fairly slim but I struggled to squeeze through and blamed my short legs, maybe the taller hikers could just squeeze their legs through rather than half their bodies.

I touched the trig point and re-crossed the wall and crouched in the shelter of it munching my way through the yoghurt covered bananas while waiting for the others to turn up. The reason long distance runners wear packs isn’t for water and important ultra-runner things but for the snacks. Snacks are one of the big reasons I run. More miles = more snacks. And I love a good snack.

Sarah and Anna arrived and we all posed for a damp and foggy photo next to the trig point before we headed downwards. This wasn’t as fun as Pen-y-Ghent as the paths were flinty and rocky with sharp stones so you had to watch your step. A false step could mean a broken ankle or a gashed leg. The stones moved underfoot and as we descended the steepness increased. I kept turning my left ankle over and what felt like electric shocks ran up my leg every time this happened. Ouch.

Anna started speeding up, frustrated by the slow progress and I followed her lead. I didn’t slog up and up and up that long, slow climb to pick my way down here like an old lady. I let my feet go and soon we were dashing down the side of the mountain. Luckily my sense of self-preservation seemed to be guiding my feet and I made it to the dry stone wall at the bottom, uninjured and still on my feet. Just.

The next mile was mainly downhill and we passed fields and farmlands and an occasional conifer plantation as we moved down into the valley between mountains. The rain had started again but the sheep in the fields were unworried and continued eating the grass. A small group of lambs however were all seeking cover under an unhitched trailer, bleating and staring out at us running in the rain as though we were mad. I could see their point. I’d quite like to sit under the shelter of a trailer for a moment eating a crème egg out of the rain.

We made it over the cattle grids and back onto a farm lane. We were passed by yet another postman’s van, thinking as it disappeared around a corner of the lane how many miles we could have saved our legs by hitching a lift in the back among the letters and parcels.

The downhill running didn’t last long and soon our path was doing what a race description would describe as ‘undulating’. We crossed yet another cattle grid and ran onto the main road, up the incline and past the Hill Inn. We ground to a halt at the only access onto the path, as what looked like a neverending procession of soaking wet hikers climbed over the stile in front of us like clowns climbing out of a tiny car.

The rain at this point was best described as torrential, the wind horizontal and just to be unfair there were a few hailstones as well. One buff – tied around my head - was freezing cold, wet and blowing against my face. The other was freezing cold, wet and round my neck. I was ROCKING the cold, damp granny look. My jacket was soaked through, my face was grumpy and worst of all I was running out of snacks.

The others didn’t look much drier or happier than me. But on the plus side, the rain was washing some of the mud off.

I wasn’t enjoying this part at all. But at least we were running fast. Although this was mainly as it was too damn cold to walk and the quicker we ran, the quicker we would be on the outside of a bacon sandwich and a bucket of coffee.

I thought longingly of the waterproof jacket I’d left on my bed at the B&B. Fat lot of good it was doing me there. Before setting out, I just couldn’t choose what to wear. I’d packed and unpacked the waterproof jacket several times and finally decided against it, going with my splashproof lighter weight jacket instead. I’d reasoned that as we would be running, our body temperatures should stay reasonably high and should my lighter jacket get wet it would probably dry out between mountains. At the very worst, I’d only be cold for a few hours. This theory had worked well until this point. I’d even had to undo the jacket between the first two mountains and had resisted the urge to take it off and stow it in the pack as didn’t want to waste time. But I was glad of the long tights I was wearing and most definitely didn’t envy Anna in her shorts.

The foothills of Ingleborough were steep and rolling and a section of the path was a boardwalk which stretched across the sodden ground. Our trail shoes clattered as we ran on it. In the dips between the hills, the air temperature was warmer and the wind dropped and it was almost pleasant but soon we were at the foot of Ingleborough staring up at the sheer mountainside against which the path zigzagged.

I’d lent my gloves but had to ask for them back. My hands were so cold that touching the rocks to aid my climb gave an unpleasant electric shock sensation. The first section of the climb is steep and unrunnable (at least for us and with hikers in the way) and dripping with water. Climbing slowly, steadily higher, inching upwards, I felt like an insect crawling on the face of the mountain. Insignificant and tiny. Making infinitesimal progress towards the summit high above.

Soon we were onto the climb proper and there was a fair amount of water washing down the rocks making the progress difficult and hands colder. We reached the fence above and passed through the stile and onto the first false peak of the mountain. A climb again, the wind stronger now, we kept close to the mountainside , we didn’t want our tiredness to cause us to stumble or slip in the wrong direction.

Clambering up the last rocks, we came to the sloping plateau on the top of Ingleborough. It was too foggy to see anything further than 10m away, the fog deadened our voices and the stones on the ground made strange shapes, cairns suddenly appearing out of the whiteness.

A voice called out to us. A lost man and wife team had walked from Clapham and couldn’t find their way back. I directed them back the way we came up the mountainside and offered our map but they wanted to find the way directly back to their village. There were people coming up behind us I reassured them that maybe they’d know the way. Clapham? I hope that’s a local village or they’ve got a hell of a walk back to London.

Moving off into the fog, we estimated where we thought the trig point would be and set off in search of it as fast as we could. My legs didn’t want to run but the sooner we found the trig point, the sooner we could be heading back to warmth. No-one else seemed to be up here but us. It was spooky and a bit otherworldly. There was no sign of the views I’d had last time. No chance of seeing the Ribblehead viaduct or the other mountains. We couldn’t even see the trig point.

Then finally “It’s here!” We stumbled towards it, freezing cold and just glad to have found it as it meant we could get the hell down off the mountain. Unlike the other mountains, there was no-one around to take the photo. My phone wouldn’t respond to take the pictures and my freezing, fumbling fingers didn’t want to operate either. I took a photo of Sarah and Anna, then we swapped over and a photo was taken of me. I tried to smile but it didn’t work. I just wanted down.

It’s not my best picture. I look like a Granny who’s one number short at bingo when some other hag screams “house!”.

We ran back the way we thought we’d come but ran too far and were met by a sheer drop. We realised our mistake and picked our way back and spotted the way down and were soon met with the welcome sight of the cairn. One path leading back towards Whernside, but forking the other direction, our path leading towards Horton-in-Ribblesdale, a warm cafe, food and 5 final miles of mainly downhill running.
It’s amazing how your mood lifts when you’re on the home stretch. Running down the path away from Ingleborough, my legs felt good. There was some pain but it was a good pain. My legs were tired, but it was a GOOD tired. A hard won tired. No injuries or niggles.

Anna cheered us up with her constant talk of a cup of tea. No dreams for her of a bacon sandwich or a nice fry up. She just wanted a hot cup of tea. As we ran further and further, the cup of tea in her vision got bigger and bigger. At this rate she was going to have to stir it with an oar.

The path down was slippery with rain and mud and sections were flooded. At several points we had to stop and pick our way through and try to find an alternative route. The path had sections which were in a deep dip. This didn’t help with the flooding and we wound our way up and down the sides trying to find a safe path. There were several slips and trips but none serious, just irritating as each were keeping us from our destination.

At mile 23 the path was very flooded and we couldn’t find a safe way through. We scrambled up the bank and found a clear path, smooth and straight running along the top of the bank. We followed this for half a mile until it terminated at a stone wall and we made our way back down to the flooded path. Falling down the bank I managed to regain the mud the earlier torrential rain had washed off.

As we came up to the signpost, I glanced to my right and found I was hallucinating teepees. I blinked. Nope. Not a hallucination. There really WAS a man in a tepee drinking tea. I raised my to him. He waved back. Bastard didn’t offer me a cup of tea though.

We followed the signpost and towards the rooftops we could see in the distance. We were surrounded by rolling green hillsides now and we knew we were close. Following the path up the side of the hill and across a slanting field to a gate, we crossed railway tracks and ran down a steep slope into the village of Horton-in-Ribblesdale.

Onto roads, the treads on our shoes clacking and mud falling from them, running down the hill, past the field with the car, over the bridge, through the car park and on past the row of houses.

Until at last ... the Pen-y-Ghent Cafe. A bowl of chips and a bucket of tea.

My stamped time card

Time: 5 hours 47.
Distance: 24.43 miles
Elevation Gain4,571 ft
Garmin info: here.

A few strange facts:

  • The 3 Yorkshire 3 Peaks is a famous fell race. The 1st placed lady Victoria Wilkinson this year did so in 3hrs 21!! (Our route was slightly different as the runners take a more direct route but that is an ASTOUNDING time!!)
  • We stayed at the Seed Hill Guesthouse in Ingleton where they do the BEST cooked breakfast with amazing thick bacon. There is a peacock that lives in the village and roosts in a tree there at night. One day about 10 years ago it suddenly appeared in the village and has stayed ever since. It originally came with its mate but she was knocked down by a quarry truck a few years ago. The peacock calls for her every evening.
  • We kept seeing discarded socks along the route. We decided that they were probably down to someone being caught short without loo roll. Any better explanations?
  • We are already wondering how much we’d be able to knock off in better weather and taking the more direct route ...
  • My legs didn’t work properly for a week and the rest of me felt as though I’d been hit by a truck. Plus my hands swelled up immediately after the run. No idea why. Trying to drink my coffee was like trying to pick the cup up with fat pink sausages for fingers.
  • Anna is in remission for MG which stands for Myasthenia gravis. This is an autoimmune neuromuscular disease leading to fluctuating muscle weakness and fatigue so her achievement in running the Yorkshire 3 Peaks is doubly amazing AND she's doing 9 more crazy things this year! Please will you visit her page even if you don’t donate ... just to raise awareness of MG. It's here

Anyone fancy giving the Yorkshire 3 Peaks a go? I'd love to have another go at running it in better weather!