Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Northern Traverse

I made my way carefully over the "Three Sisters" of the Cleveland Way escarpment, Cringle Moor, Cold Moor and the Wainstones. It was something after 2am, the mist had brought the visibility down to maybe 15 yards in the torch beam and the enthusiastic northerly wind was making the gentle rain feel a lot wetter than it should. I didn't know whether there was anyone else on the course for miles in either direction  -  two and a half days after the start the field had got pretty strung out. Not a great place to have an accident I mused. A bang on the head, broken leg or even sprained ankle would generate some interesting complications at this point. Then almost immediately the next thought, of course, this is why we do these things. I was completely happy in my world.

1. Preparations

When the Northern Traverse event was announced last year I got my name down almost straight away. A route I had always wanted to do but never quite got around to (Wainwright's "Coast to Coast" from St Bees to Robin Hood's Bay) and organisation by James Thurlow's "Open Adventure" outfit (I had done the inaugural "Lakes in a Day" run in 2014 and enjoyed it so much I already had already had my entry in for 2015) were a combination too good to miss.

I had ideas about recceing the course, but most of last autumn was taken up with preparations for my (ultimately unsuccessful) attempt on the Spine Race and once we were into the new year other priorities intruded, so somehow it never happened. I knew the Lake District section (Ennerdale to Haweswater) because we spend a lot of time there and some of the North York Moors (Ingleby Cross to Bloworth) from the Hardmoors events, so in the end I decided that would be enough and I would just enjoy the experience of coming to the rest "fresh".

I learned from the Tor des Geants back in 2012 that a good strategy for me in multi-day races is simple. In that race I reached a very low point towards the end of Day 2 and was on the point of dropping out, but then got a grip and concentrated on looking after myself rather than the progress I was making. By Day 5 I was going as strongly again as I had at the start. You can tolerate a fairly high degree of deterioration over say a 100 miler taking maybe 2 days; it's short enough to "hang on" to the finish, but get to double that mileage and it won't work. Even if you can tolerate toughing it out physically, spending several days in increasing discomfort doesn't seem like much fun.  So for me the only way to tackle a long event is to enjoy the journey, go at a pace at which you always feel good, look after your feet, and let forward progress take care of itself.

I wasn't sure how long the Northern Traverse would take. At almost 5 days the overall time allowance seemed fairly generous for a course of 190 miles and 28,000 ft of ascent. With the event due to start at 10.00am on Monday 30th May that meant a final cutoff at 8am on the Saturday morning. I guessed I could do nearer to 4 days; I had promised to meet friends and family at the Keswick Beer Festival on the Friday evening, so allowing a few hours for the train journey back that seemed to fit OK. I would take it steadily then push a bit near the end if necessary.

The Open Adventure concept for races is one that appeals to me. You have well stocked, well organised "Feed Stations" along the course at regular intervals, to which a drop bag containing spare shoes, clothes and so on may be sent, but in between these you are very much on your own  -  no course markings, no intermediate checkpoints, no marshals. no "safety team". You need to be responsible for yourself. In fact there are no conventional checkpoints at all because competitors carry a GPS tracker, which as well as showing the organisation where everyone is on the course, is used as the basis for all time recording. There is an SOS button on the tracker which will initiate a rescue, but once pressed it signals that you are out of the race; and as James said at the briefing "Getting lost is not an emergency!" The course for this event was defined as a line on maps issued to runners, and the rule was you must not deviate from the line by more than 200 metres; if you found yourself accidentally off course you had to go back to the course at the place where you left it. On the Northern Traverse there would be four feed stations at convenient (or sometimes, the only feasible) locations. The longest stage between feed stations was 46 miles and the shortest 28 miles.

2. The Lakes

Gathering for the start at St Bees, the only two of the starters I had met before were Greg Crowley and Matt Neale, but there wasn't a lot of hanging around after handing in drop bags and picking up trackers, and at precisely 10.00am we were on our way under a cloudless blue sky, tackling the first short climb up onto the cliff path. The route followed this northward for about four miles, a bit more of the "just keep the sea on your left" navigation that had seen me through so many miles last year in the Ring of Fire and Hardmoors 60 races. I chatted for a mile or so with Dan Milton who also thought he would take around 4 days, but he seemed to be going naturally a bit quicker than me so I encouraged him to push on and catch up with his girlfriend Claire Turton a few yards ahead. They were intending to run the whole race together.

The field soon spaced out and by the time we turned inland at Sandwith I could see no-one either ahead or behind. I suspected there were few if any runners behind because right from the start I had adopted a regime of only running when it seemed easier than walking. In general, this was all the downhills plus any flat sections that had easy ground underfoot.

The run along the coast was beautiful but after that the course followed sundry field paths, tracks, bit of minor road and old railway line through generally uninspiring countryside and old mining areas. Somewhere along here I was caught and passed by Anne Green but otherwise saw no-one else. It was great to leave all this behind on the gentle ascent of Dent Hill, our first real countryside, with views and skylarks and the Lake District drawing us in beyond. As the vista expanded I saw one or two other runners ahead  -  I wasn't completely alone then! Jogging down the steepish grass on the far side of the hill I met another runner coming back up  -  he'd dropped his glasses and was going back to look for them. I sympathised, I can see well enough in bright daylight but haven't a chance of reading the map at night without my specs.

The weather was superb, fine and warm. Later, some runners complained of the heat but I love these conditions. I stopped to refill my water bottles in Nannycatch Beck as I hadn't started out with much from St Bees.  In spite of the recent good weather I knew that water would be clear and plentiful through the Lakes but I would need to plan much better across the peaty Pennines and the relative dry North York Moors. In no time we seemed to be at Ennerdale Bridge, end of "Day 1" for Coast to Coast walkers. I knew there would be a cafe here but as it was a bank holiday I was wary of relying on it so for this first day I had brought more food. On this sort of event I would normally set out on each leg with just a bag of Haribos and a few sachets of Mountain Fuel. I ate my cheese sandwiches walking the lovely path along the southern shore of Ennerdale Water. I actually overtook a few runners here! The long forest road from the end of the lake up to Black Sail hut is not too interesting, but once there I felt I was on home ground. Another couple of runners were taking a breather at the hut, but the quality of the rest of my day now depended on reaching the cafe at Honister before it closed at 6pm.

From Black Sail the route goes up alongside Loft Beck, the first real climb of the day, and it was good to be properly in the hills at last. The track across the top, once featureless, now sports a cairn every few yards so I guess a few Coast-to-Coasters have got lost up here to prompt this. Then it was easily down to the old tramway and then the cafe with nearly forty minutes to spare. I took my time over a big latte and an all-day breakfast panini, the first hot food of the day.  There were several runners in and around the cafe and as I started out I ran into the guy who I had seen back on Dent Hill looking for his glasses, who turned out to be Jesse Palmer. We carried on down the track to Seatoller and then Rosthwaite together, chatting to discover that we had many mutual friends and had done a lot of the same events. But as we started the ascent of Greenup Edge it was clear that Jesse naturally favoured a slightly faster pace than me so I encouraged him to go on and wished him well. I loved taking the long ascent up past Lining Crag and over the usually boggy ground to the pass at my own pace, I couldn't think of anywhere I would rather have been on such a stunning sunny evening. The jog down the other side, bouldery and tricky at first, then a bit of grass to the top of Far Easedale, then a long varied track all the way down to Grasmere was also pure pleasure. There was a photographer near the bottom, so my tale contains a rare photo  -  I don't normally bother to take pictures, I just like to remember the experience.

Nearing the bottom of Far Easedale

Just before Grasmere, our route turned off for Thorney How, a hostel offering free hot drinks, so the chance of a cup of tea was not to be missed, accompanied by a large and delicious slice of flapjack. The people at the hostel had a live feed from the trackers so I asked how many people they still expected through. It was good to learn that everyone had by now crossed Greenup Edge, barely an hour back.

The next ascent up to Grisedale Tarn is mostly on an easy path up steepish grass, so out came the poles.  I had debated with myself whether to bring them or not on this trip; for the normally technical ups and downs in the Lakes I don't find them much help, but on long easy ascents such as you get for mile after mile in the Alps they give you a sort of "four-wheel -drive" and help you get into a rhythm which makes life a lot easier. I decided they were worth the weight in the bag and had already used them on Dent Hill and the long forest road. I ate my remaining food, a marmalade sandwich, and pressed on upwards. It was getting progressively darker and as I reached the col the light had to go on. But from here it's an easy four or five miles down to Patterdale and the first feed station at the Starkey hut. I arrived five minutes after midnight, fourteen hours from the start, a couple of hours quicker than I had anticipated but conditions had been exceptionally good.

The ritual of arrival. A cup of tea, decide a shower is an unnecessary luxury tonight, so the first job is to sort out feet. Socks off, clean, inspect for damage, no problems, a fresh application of Sudocrem all over and clean socks. Now we can concentrate on the rest. Chilli and baked potato, more tea, magic. Decide to have a snooze for an hour but don't really sleep so up for coffee, flapjack, thanks everyone and out into the night.

I left Patterdale with Jesse and another runner but as soon as we started climbing it was clear they wanted to go faster than me so I let them go on and carried on at my own pace. It was light by the time I reached Angle Tarn but it was cloudy, and from here up to Kidsty Pike, the high point of the trip, visibility got progressively worse. Our map showed a direct route from the top of the Knott to Kidsty, but I decided in the mist it would be as quick to follow the main path south to pick up the good path that I knew went up Kidsty from near the little col. Less than a quarter of a mile further and I thought quicker and safer on the day.  There was a cold breeze on top so it was good to lose some height down the long descent to Haweswater, which starts off easily but has one or two scrambly sections lower down, At the bottom we joined the path along Haweswater shore which I have followed many times in both directions on other events. It was warmer down here and the sun was starting to break through. Once at the dam at the end of the lake, a few miles of nondescript farmland led to Shap. As I approached Shap I caught up with Hisayo Kawahara and asked her how it was going. "I'm just so tired!" she said. We jogged the last few hundred yards to Shap where there was another potential hot drink stop at the New Ing Lodge. We found not only hot and cold drinks but free cheese and pickle sandwiches, what a bonus. Interestingly a number of runners converged on Shap within a few minutes of each other, we saw Jonathan Wood, Dave Rowell, Dave Howarth and Daniel Aldus also at the Lodge pitstop. Then five minutes later Jesse arrived, having spent a while searching for Kidsty summit in the mist. I had heard that water was problematic between Shap and Kirkby Stephen, 20 miles further on, so made sure I had a full litre. I also felt a need for some ginger biscuits, so I popped into the Co-op to get some.

I somehow expected the 20 miles from Shap to Kirkby to be dull, just a link between the Lakes and the Dales, but it turned out to be very enjoyable. Rolling limestone moors, solid underfoot and now under a blue sky. No severe gradients so they passed quite quickly in a mixture of walking and jogging, and before long I was turning up at feed station No 2 at the Rugby club in Kirkby Stephen at 3.30pm, about 12 hours after leaving Patterdale.

3. The Dales

It had been a sweaty afternoon so time for a shower at Kirkby, a plate of lasagne and some melon (what a discovery, full marks to whoever thought of this) and a brief chat with Anne Green who arrived at about the same time. Proceedings were enlivened by the building fire alarm going off  for no apparent reason. The gallant feed station crew eventually found a way to turn it off after about five minutes. I still felt I could do with some sleep though so I went out to a tent. Maybe it was the wind flapping the tent, maybe the metal signs on the railings by the rugby pitch creaking, but again I didn't do more than doze for an hour, so I gave up, had a 5,30pm breakfast and set off into the Dales.

The climb up to Nine Standards Rigg was fairly long but very gentle and on a road then a good track all the way  -  another place I was glad I'd brought the poles. On the way up I passed Ed Strong who had stopped to adjust something; I expected to see him later though as he seemed to be going more strongly than me. I could see the nine big cairns from quite a way off but as I gained height the clouds started to swirl in, and by the time I reached the standards they appeared quite atmospherically out of the mist when I was almost on top of them. I didn't know it at the time, but this was to be the end of the fine weather for the trip.

The route off the Rigg was easy to follow at first but then got quite vague, though a saving grace was that after all the fine weather we had had it was mostly dry  -  it was typical Pennine moorland that is normally squelchy all over. I was glad it was daylight because that meant I could keep picking up the traces of the path that were there, it would have been much harder at night. I think had it been clear you could see the odd marker pole which turned up from time to time, but visibility was maybe 50 yards or so by now. The route aimed for what was shown as a jeep track where it turned left, but you couldn't tell from the map whether that would be a solid gravel road or an easy to miss double trod in the grass; it turned out to be the former, so it would have been easy to take a slight "aiming off" bearing and blast straight down to it, but those are the sort of things you only find out by being there (or talking to someone who has). I was happy enough to take my time and be careful.

A mile or so down the track it crossed a bridge but a smaller path carried on without crossing. I pulled out the map to check and as I stopped I heard a voice from behind "How are we doing then Mr Cole?" It was Jesse and Ed; we carried on together down to Keld.

Jesse had reccied a lot of the route so it was easy to cruise along without thinking about the navigation for a while. We turned off along a small path to keep high above Keld when the main track went down, but then the other two were setting a pace too fast for me so I let them go on ahead. It was now dark. A few minutes later the lights had stopped. When I reached them Jesse explained that he had stopped for some "foot maintenance". They passed me again as I was nearing the curiously-named Crackpot Hall. Jesse said the route got a bit tricky through the old mine workings but it basically followed the left side of Swinner Gill. They soon got ahead, gaining height, and their lights disappeared into the darkness.

Conditions were now getting a bit tricky.  It was dark and misty, and a cold wind had sprung up. But the main problem was that it had started to rain a bit making all the rocks gleam in the reflected beam of a torch. I was going through an old mining area with piles of stones everywhere so it was difficult to make out a path amongst all the rubble. I found the gill and followed it upwards, sticking to the left bank. The path was narrow and quite tortuous with little scrambles in places and passing more evidence of old mining activities. I persisted and before too long saw lights above me. I gradually caught up and discovered that it was Jesse and Ed working out whether they were at the right place to cross the stream.  I pulled out my gps, it hadn't helped in climbing up the gill because I had just drawn a straight line from somewhere near the start, but it confirmed this point pretty well spot on, so we crossed and soon our path turned into a much bigger track across the moor. When I got home I looked in the guidebook I had to see what it said about this section. This is what I found......"The path now bends north behind the [Crackpot] Hall to climb above the narrow gorge of Swinner Gill. Make sure you head uphill to follow the correct trail or you'll eventually find yourself on a lower, parallel but precipitous sheep track barely two boots wide and clinging to the side of the gorge below the correct route. Whichever route you stumble on, before long you arrive at the eerie remains of Swinner Gill smelting mill with waterfalls alongside. Again from here it's possible to stray onto a tricky path alongside the north banks of East Grain Beck instead of the easier way a little higher up the valley side, but both deliver you with a sweaty brow onto the breezy expanse of Gunnerside Moor".

I guess it's all pretty easy in daylight, but I'm still  not sure which combination of the above options I took! One thing for sure though the "breezy moor" was dead right. We were now up on exposed ground at around the 2000ft contour and the wind was fairly whipping across. Jesse recognised the turning to the descent to the footbridge across Gunnerside Gill, remarking dryly as we scrambled down out of the wind that "The only problem is we've got to regain all this height on the other side". Nevertheless, he led us down and up, down the long track to Surrender Bridge and through the tricky field paths to Reeth with only occasional resorts to a gps to confirm direction from Ed or me. He was going more strongly than either Ed or me, his only problem was blistered feet which were clearly giving him some problems on the downhills. But without his knowledge this section would have taken me a lot longer. Reeth was very quiet, and as soon as we realised that the Dales Bike Centre, who had kindly left their toilet block open for runners, was not actually in Reeth but in Fremington half a mile down the road, we were out of it.

As we reached the bike centre it was not far off getting light. Jesse said he would push on without stopping, Ed said he would rest for a while and my intentions were to use the loo, fill up my water and then carry on. Ed and I went inside and he settled down on the floor; I was in and out quite quickly and off down the next section, which was a mile or so of road down to Marrick Priory.

On the "Priory Steps" up through the wood towards Marrick village I was suddenly hit by overwhelming tiredness. I needed to sleep, if only for a few moments. Just before the end of the wood I lay down on the stone slabs and crashed out for 10 minutes. It was enough, after that I made reasonable progress through the fields to Richmond, feedstation No 3, which I rolled into a shade after 8.30am. I was looking forward to Richmond, run by Jon and Shirley Steele, I've known them a while.  I first met Shirley in 2007 when we were both making our way fairly slowly across Rannoch Moor in the West Highland Way Race, and I ran across Jon three years later, or rather he ran across me as I was throwing up in a meadow in Switzerland during that year's UTMB. I try to do at least one of their "Hardmoors" events each year. Shirley was at the door as I arrived. "How was that then?". A bit of a tough shift, I had to admit.

My primary need now was for sleep, but I had a cup of tea and some cake while I sorted feet. Taking my mug and plate back to the kitchen, I had a somewhat bizarre conversation with Shirley. ....

"Andy, exactly how old are you now?"
"Er, not quite sixty-eight, a couple of months to go."
"So your date of birth is 1948, right?"
"Er, yes."

I usually make some quip about being the same age as the NHS at this point, but my sleep-deprived brain couldn't put it together. And I'm still not sure what it was about. I thought they were supposed to ask you who the Prime Minister was when you were perceived to be a bit out of it.

A solid two and a half hours sleep made the world of difference. Chicken stew with potatoes, peaches and yoghourt, lashings of tea and I was good to go, ready to face the "flat bit". I really wasn't looking forward to the twenty miles or so of flat fields across the Vale of York. I was glad it had come in daylight because agricultural territory can be tricky at night because there is often no path on the ground, you're working from field edge to field edge. But I was pleasantly surprised, the whole way was good, easy to follow tracks, no sloppy ground and reasonably interesting countryside. And it had some villages, which always give the possibility of a nice pit stop. At Bolton-on-Swale there was no shop or pub, but a sign outside the church offered "Self-service tea and coffee", so I spent a somewhat serene 10 minutes inside on my own brewing up. A few miles further on Danby Wiske had a pub, another little sit down for a pint of coke and two packets of wonderfully salty crisps. By now, most places you visited had heard of the race and seen some runners. The chef at the pub knew more about where people were ahead of me than I did.

A mile after Danby Wiske I came upon a sad sight. Jesse's feet had finally given up and he was unable to continue. He was now only able to make progress by walking on his heels which meant his speed was "two  miles an hour and falling". He'd rung his wife to pick him up in Danby Wiske and was making his way slowly back there. But for his foot problems I'm sure he would have gone on to finish inside three days.

My own thoughts were now focussed on Ingleby Cross. There was a pub there and if I could make it there while they were still serving food, a good meal would see me onto the North York Moors in good shape. Another runner had caught me up a few miles back but had then stopped to adjust something. I expected him to come past at any minute but he must have been going only a little faster than me because I didn't see him again until we were just approaching the notorious A19 crossing. He turned out to be Chris Haswell, and we discussed how close we were to the pub. It looked like touch and go on getting there in time so I'd hatched a plan B which was to go into the shop at the petrol station on the A19 for pies, sausage rolls, and any other  worthy food they had. Chris declared this his plan A by getting a large coffee as well, while I chose to forego the drink and make for the pub, now only a half a mile or so distant. Meals were until 9pm, I arrived at four minutes past. I smiled as nicely as I could to the lady behind the bar. She was sympathetic but the chef would have to be consulted. She came back with "You can have cottage pie or chilli con carne".  I stayed an hour.

4. The Moors

It was dark when I set out from the pub, I had got quite cold in the wind and rain the previous night on the moors above Keld, and as tonight promised more of the same I suited up before starting. Paramo jacket (great for anywhere you're not going too fast, just a vest underneath is all that's required, keeps you dry and comfortable in all conditions) and OMM overtrousers (the only ones I've found that don't make a continual rustling noise), then off up the hill to the Cleveland Way. I've done this section half a dozen times over the years so no problem in tackling it in any conditions, tonight was just a bit slower than normal. I followed the track easily over Scarth Moor and Carlton Bank, although the visibility was down to almost nothing. The rocky track ends abruptly in a sloping field just before Lord Stones Cafe, easy to know which way to go...........if you can see the cafe. But I was happy it was straight on down and soon the cafe lights appeared out of the gloom. I tried the washroom doors to see if I could top up with water but they were all locked; no disaster, I had enough to get to the Lion Inn at the pace I was going.

I remember from my first trip over here on the inaugural Hardmoors 55 back in 2010 that it was very misty and difficult to find the way back onto the rocky track after the cafe. No problem with some familiarity though  -  find the fence, follow the fence, simples. I enjoyed picking my way over the three little peaks, remembering the last time I had been this way was in the "formal fun run" at Jon and Shirley's wedding a while ago.

Coming down to Clay Bank in  different conditions..........

I paused a while to have a drink at the road crossing at Clay Bank and was quite surprised when two other runners came past  -  I wasn't as alone as I had thought. I didn't recognise them but looking back at the times I think it must have been John Fraser and Chris Bird. They carried on and I didn't see them again.

Easy ground now, the broad track over the moors to Bloworth Crossing. It was daylight now but still misty and that just emphasised what a lonely spot this is. I remembered one windy September night when I had brought my tent out here to marshal one of the early Hardmoors 110 races; nowadays Jon makes it a self-clip so the guild of "Bloworth Crossing Keepers" who have taken numbers and handed out jelly babies here is no more. New ground for me beyond here though as Wainwright's route leaves the Cleveland Way and heads south down the old railway track to the Lion Inn.

It's around six miles from Bloworth to the Inn (Feed Station No 4) and I found it one of the most frustrating sections of the whole trip. It's dead level and easy ground under foot but somehow I just couldn't summon up a jog. I tried counting steps, running towards marks and so on, but all to no avail. Fifty or sixty paces and I was walking again. Just too tired I guess. In the end I gave up and just walked steadily. I think the surroundings would have been impressive if I could have seen them, it was clear that thousands upon thousands of tonnes of material had been shifted to create the cuttings and embankments for the now defunct mineral line, but for me they just disappeared into the mist. So I plodded on with my thoughts and waited for Blakey to appear. At least the wind seemed to be coming mostly from behind now.

The Lion Inn sits on Blakey Ridge, a high, exposed place. There is nothing else there. In fact nothing else around for miles. Yet the Inn is popular for this in a similar way to Tan Hill on the Pennines, so no spare space to get a base inside. The original intention was to have the feed station in a small marquee next to the Inn, but we had been told back along the course that it had proved impossible to get any tents up there because of the wind, but food was being served out of a van. It didn't sound too promising, and I had got it into my head that it was probably better to push on through, lose some height out of the wind, then get things together in one of the villages between the moors and the coast. When I arrived however at around 7am,  I found the amazing Joe Faulkner running a 24 hour bistro, complete with comfortable seating for 6 diners, in the back of a transit van. Two bowls of chilli and a pint of tea and I already felt a different person. I was undecided now whether to carry straight on. It was only 28 miles to the finish, but they had managed to get some of the small tents up outside the van now so a rest was possible. "Look", the ever-wise Joe advised, "Go and get an hour's sleep, have some breakfast and you'll still have 12 hours to finish in daylight." Decision made.

An hour's solid sleep, porridge and coffee, and I was out into the gale again on the last lap. The crew of the feed station at the Lion, which was open for longer than any of the others, were far more deserving of a finisher's medal than any of the runners.

The first mile northwards up the road was directly into the wind and it was hard enough just to make progress, regardless of the speed. Then a track turned off at right angles and we gradually veered round to moving south again then gradually started losing height. After the first mile I was able to run all the way down to the first village at Glaisdale, 5 or 6 miles distant. A 4mph average rather than the barely three I had been achieving down the railway. There's a lot to be said for a sleep and some food. Glaisdale was awake but I felt I was going well so decided to give it a miss, and followed a muddy riverside path then a bit of road to Egton Bridge which the route sort of skirted, then an easy level track to the larger community of Grosmont. Chris Haswell caught me up again along here and we stayed together a bit and chatted. He said he thought he was suffering from shin splints and it was getting painful. I had decided to stop in Grosmont but he was carrying on so we parted again.

I found a place for tea and jam scones, like you do in these Yorkshire villages. I was glad that I did because the next bit was quite a shock, as the mile or so of road out of Grosmont proved to be one of the steepest climbs of the whole course. Having taken off all the waterproofs at last I was a bit chilly coming out of the cafe but really warm again by the time the road levelled out. A bit of nondescript but harmless moor led to the charming hamlet of Littlebeck. From here, the next mile or two alongside the beck, going up a wooded ravine, would have been wonderful had the path not been so obliterated by slippery mud. As it was it was still fairly spectacular. I stopped for a quick look at "The Hermitage", a cave hollowed out of rock with a rock "bench" inside (and where I found out chatting after the finish that Ben Taylor had stopped for a sleep), then diverted a few yards for a look at the "Falling Foss" waterfall. The mud ended as we came out of the trees, then there was just a little climb up a road onto the moors again. Chris appeared again here; I don't know how that happened, but this time he passed me and stayed ahead to the finish!

The two miles of moor from here to the outskirts of Hawkser were my least favourite part of the whole trip. Boggy trods, ankle deep and worse if you didn't get the best line. Slop like this belongs on the Pennine way where it would be made welcome, not contaminating the otherwise brilliant Wainwright coast-to-coast route! But then we were out onto dry land at Hawkser. I sat on a stile to wring my socks out, and as I was doing this Chris Bird came running by at a cracking pace, clearly intent on the finish. But I knew it would come soon enough now, so I carried on through the village and down to the cliffs of the North Sea.

5. The End

I knew it was four miles or so to the finish, but I wasn't really in a hurry. The stretch from the Lion had gone relatively quickly, it was about 6pm as I went through Hawkser so plenty of daylight left and the chip shop would still be open when I reached the finish. I was pleased that I was still able to jog some of the level bits along the coast, and the downhills went easily. Visibility was much better down here and as I approached Robin Hood's Bay I could see Ravenscar up on the cliffs in the distance. Then it was off the cliff path and down the long steep hill through the town to the seaside and the finish. Race Director James was there by the slipway, ready with a welcome and a medal, and then as I sat and reflected for a moment or two, fish and chips magically appeared.

I finished in three days, nine and a half hours, in 19th place. The word was that there were 60 starters but I could only see 50 on the live tracking. Whichever it was, I made it comfortably into the top half of the field and that's a bit of a bonus for me these days. With a bit more focus, a bit more discomfort and fewer stops for cakes I might have gone quicker, but that wasn't really the point. I came for the trip, and the trip had been good. I had survived pretty well, no injuries, no aches and pains, no blisters. 

Was I going to join in the competition sprint up the hill to the village hall? I think I said something like well I made it here from St Bees without having to run up a hill so I'm not going to start now..............

This was a great event over a wonderful course. Thanks to James and all his team for managing to get it so right first time.


Chris said...

A great report. Fantastic performance.

Ben Pine said...

Great report Andy. Thanks for sharing your adventure.

Dave T said...

Wonderful! Top half of the field; life in the old dog yet ;-)
Ed Strong is an ex pupil of mine #smallworld

Rob said...

What I find most amazing about these race reports is how you remember so much stuff, especially in one like this where you have to wait at least 4 days before you can write any of it down.

Long may it continue!

Stuart said...

What an amazing journey. Well done for completing and getting your top half finish. Great blog.

Unknown said...

Wonderful report, a real inspiration.