I had been looking forward to this race for a long time having originally entered it in those what seem long ago pre Covid days. I travelled down with Lynn on the Friday night and managed to not get to stuck into the cask ale at the Craven Arms.
The weather on the Saturday morning was dry but overcast and as we made our way to Horton the top of Pen-y-Ghent was obscured by low cloud. Registration was a seemless process with hardly any queus and despite there being far more people milling about than at a normal hill race it was clear that the field would be nowhere near the 800 odd people who signed up for it.
The race briefing warned us to take care on the likely slippery slabs coming off Whernside, which I didn’t actually find that slippery (more on that later). I decided to position myself towards the back off the field and ease into the race. On reflection I was possibly to conservative at the start as the climb up the first hill Pen-y-Ghent was approached on a nice runnable but not to wide a path which made overtaking challenging. Nevertheless I arrived at the summit at about 42 minutes and felt good. By now it was drizzling slightly but felt warm as we ran back down Pen-y-Ghent and embarked out towards high Birkwith on nice runnable paths and tracks, this part of the course through High Birkwith and out towards Ribblehead viaduct is fast running albeit with a good mile or so of it on the road which is not to pleasant with cars driving towards you some of them at speed.
I reached Ribblehead in about 1hr 49 and felt good and took on water, lucozade and chocolate. One thing I do struggle with in these long races is working out the optimum re- fueling strategy and how to do it quickly and efficiently. It could be because I don’t do enough long races (only two this year) and although I often do long training runs I do tend to faff and spend 2-3 minutes at least at the top of each hill.
Anyway shortly after Ribblehead the route went of path and we slogged up a grassy hillside to reach the top of Whernside. In a type two fun kind of way I quite enjoyed this part of the race as it wasn’t as hard as climbing up Beinn Dubh from the saddle but it was the kind of terrain I like grassy steep but not to rocky. I reached the top of Whernside in about 2hrs 40 and still felt ok. I had gained a few places on the climb some of which I lost on the downhill coming off Whernside. The flags although a bit slippery where no worse than coming down the Cobbler tourist path although the amount of walkers also descending at this point did create an extra challenge.
The run along to Hill Inn was uneventful and some chat with a couple of guys from Todmorden and Saltaire and a woman from Sheffield University helped the miles pass. I reached Hill Inn in 3hrs 10 and took more water and chocolate on board. I felt ok at this point and a small group of this traded positions on the lower slopes of the climb up Ingleborough.
It was about half way up Ingleborough at the 18mile (30k ish for all you metric heads) mark that my body started to realise that this a long way and farther than I normally run. I began to feel I was getting slower although no one was passing me at this point and the wet rocks started to become challenging. I reached the top of Ingleborough in bang on 4 hours which I was a bit disappointed with as the second half of the climb had taken longer than I anticipated when at Hill Inn.
Coming off the checkpoint was when things fell apart literally. I had been mentally obsessing about rewarding myself at Ingleborough checkpoint with some Salt and Vinegar hula hoops. However eating crisps whilst trying to jog along over rocky terrain isn’t wise and next thing I knew I was hitting the deck. Upon getting to my feet several runners asked if I was ok and highlighted that a first aid guy should be about 400 yards down the hill. Inspecting the damage I had several cuts with the one on my right knee not a pretty sight. I decided to walk/shuffle a bit and see if I found the first aid person. I didn’t find anyone dispensing medical aid partly due to the mist and that those of us going down were going a bit wider on a slightly different line to avoid those still coming up the hill.
I resolved to take my time and jog a bit and see if I could finish. I managed the last 4 or so miles but it wasn’t pleasant. The run in back to Horton from Ingleborough is quite rocky and varied from rocky grassy bits to rocky muddy bits.The combination of tired legs and apprehension caused by the injuries slowed me down.
I was relieved to hit the final road section then the playing field and the large number of spectators on the roads nearby and the playing field make for a great atmosphere.
Reflections on the race. I was pleased to finish given the fall I had although would like to have been a bit quicker than the 5 hours and a minute it took me. The first part of the race is very runnable with the second half from Ribblehead more like a fell race. This presents quite a challenge and although I am used to hill running it was a struggle adjusting to the terrain particularly coming of Ingleborough. Great credit to all the marshals who line the course, it’s almost impossible to get lost as there was someone pointing the way at pretty much every path junction. Big thanks to NHS staff who patched me up at the end of the race. Racing a long way is hard work not just physically but mentally so hats off to all the Westies who do this kind of stuff on a regular basis.