I cooked up the plan to try and see all 58 Herd of Sheffield elephants towards the end of our holiday in Sri Lanka. We were staying at a cool colonial hotel in Bandarawela. Wonderful to look at, but not much to do, and very quickly I got bored. So I decided to catch up on what had been going on in the running world while we’d been busy seeing temples and buddas. And I read about the Accelerate Herd of Sheffield ‘run out’, taking in the 45 elephants in the centre of Sheffield. Which rapidly led to the thought ‘why don’t I try seeing all of them in one day?’, followed by ‘I can do it the Sunday after next when the OH is off to Cambridge for work’. And so I put an OS map of Sheffield in my amazon shopping basket, ready to order the moment we got home.
While waiting for the OS map to arrive I started investigating the locations of the outer elephants, and routes between them using google maps. And had a bit of a shock. The Our Cow Molly farm was (in retrospect unsurprisingly...) right on the edge of Sheffield and while it doesn’t take long to drive from Meadowhall to Crystal Peaks, they’re actually ~8 miles apart. This was going to be a longer day than I’d initially realised.
After marking the outer elephants on the map, the next step was plotting a route linking them. Since I’d be getting the train to Sheffield I decided to clear the city centre elephants first, then head out to the Botanical gardens via Weston Park, nip back to Bramall lane, followed by a big 3/4 circle taking in the outer elephants at Graves Park Animal Farm, Forge Dam, Our Cow Molly Farm, Hillsborough Walled Garden, Meadowhall and finally Crystal Peaks. The advantage of finishing at Crystal Peaks was that I could get the tram back to the station at the end if I wanted. Initially I fancied doing a closed loop by foot. However that was before I’d realised quite how many miles were involved. Plus, while there was a nice-looking off-road route from Meadowhall to Crystal Peaks, from Crystal Peaks to anywhere else (the station or the next elephant around the outer ‘circle’ at Graves Park Animal Farm) would involve lots of grim road miles. I decided to leave the decision about how to get back to the station to the day. I also wasn’t sure whether to just ‘do’ the big elephants or try to see the smaller elephants which were clustered at various indoor locations as well. All but one of the small elephant clusters were in the inner city, so I plotted routes with and without the one outer cluster at Abbeydale industrial hamlet and again decided to make the call on the day.
A couple of spanners were thrown in the works in the days running up to my elephant hunt. First I re-discovered that the 1st train to Sheffield on a Sunday wasn’t until 10am, and then I learnt that some of the big elephants were in locations with restricted Sunday opening hours. The most constraining ones were the Millennium Galleries (11-4) and Graves Park Animal Farm & Hillsborough Walled Garden (both 9-4). I briefly considered doing an out and back to Hillsborough while I was in the city centre, but decided against it, because it would add quite a few miles and the route wouldn’t ‘flow’ as well. Getting to Hillsborough for 4 looked like it should, just, be doable.
I set off on the Sunday with a fairly large rucksack containing 3 litres of water (it looked like it was going to be a hot day), snacks and the usual running bits and pieces. First up I bagged The Warrior at Sheffield station and the 2 elephants outside in Sheaf Square. And rapidly rued the fact I hadn’t put the ‘Herd of Sheffield’ app next to the camera on my phone. Next up was Park Hill followed by the 2 elephants at Victoria Quays. Here I encountered my first and biggest problem in finding and tagging elephants. The 1st elephant was obvious, but then either the locations in the app weren’t right or my phone GPS wasn’t updating fast enough and I couldn’t find the 2nd one. I eventually gave up (convincing myself that it had been damaged and taken away for repairs), but fortunately found it on my way to the next location.
From Lady’s Bridge I headed along the river to Kelham Island. After tagging the outside big elephant I went to investigate seeing the cluster of small elephants indoors at the museum. It was 10.50, the museum didn’t open to 11 and already there was a substantial queue. So, since I didn’t have time to spare if I was going to make Hillsborough for 4, I decided not to do the small elephants. Next was a sweep through the high density of elephants in the city centre. None of them took too long to find, but I’d been at a dark matter conference at the Cutler’s Hall all week and wished I’d spent some time checking their locations out. I also had to keep explaining to considerate parents that I really didn’t mind their children being in the way of my photos.
One of the more awkward elephants, was also one of my favourites: Tin Lizzie. Its location on the map wasn’t particularly accurate and, thanks to a permissive path being closed, I had to do an unnecessary loop to get at it. At this point the elephant at Bramall lane was showing on the map app, and it occurred to me that doing an out and back to it now might be more efficient than my planned route. But I decided to stick to my planned route rather than trying to plan a re-route on the fly, and potentially ending up trying to cross rivers and tramlines where there weren’t bridges.
Initially the streets had been fairly quiet, but as midday approached the city came alive, with other elephant hunters, picnickers and people listening to bands in pub gardens (I guess as part of the Tramlines festival). And, it felt good to be part of it (albeit in a slightly obsessive, anti-social way). Passing through the Botanical Gardens I kicked myself for not asking the OH exactly where the memorial tree to his dad is; it would have been nice to have passed by. Here I made my first ‘be lured away from my planned route my spotting the next-but-one-elephant’ mistake, but it didn’t cost me much time or distance.
On the way back towards the city centre to Bramall Lane, my route took me through Sharrow Vale cemetery, which looked fascinating. Definitely somewhere to re-visit in future. Outside there was a big lumpy rock. I thought ‘that’s a bit silly, given how many climbers there are in Sheffield, people are going to climb it’. And then I realised it was in fact designed for bouldering with rubberised matting underneath... Not long after it started raining. A bit shit for the picnicers, but I was glad of its cooling effect.
On the climb up through Meersbrook park I realised I’d been so focused on bagging elephants that I hadn’t had anything to eat, so I slammed down a Mars bar and a packet of hula hoops. The climb up to Graves park seemed to go on forever, and then it took a bit of wandering around inside the Animal Farm before I found the elephant. The farm looked, even to a farmer’s daughter, to have some interesting animals (including some huge pigs) and is another addition to the ‘come back and re-visit’ list.
It was already becoming clear that getting to Hillsborough for 4 was going to be a stretch, so I tried to get a move on down the hill to the A621. Usually if reality isn’t doing what you think the map says it should be doing, then you’re not where you think you are. However in this case, even in retrospect, I’m pretty sure that what the map said the roads & footpaths did and what they actually did were 2 different things. And I wasted 10 minutes, backtracking and ad-libbing to get down into the valley. Which was followed by a climb up another hill before the descent down to Forge dam, where people were ignoring the signs and letting their children climb all over the elephant. I was running a bit low on water, but the toilets only had annoying ‘hole in the wall washers’ (which dispense hot, soapy water) and there was a long queue at the cafe.
Next up was (surprise!) another long climb. I was overtaken by a runner who asked me if I knew where I was going. And when I said yes, he asked me why I was carrying a map then. I resisted the temptation to respond ‘so I know where I’m going’. After Lodge Moor the road plunged steeply into a valley and then my route took footpaths across the fields up the other side. At one point I thought I was going to have to take a detour to avoid a cow and calves. They stood their ground, but let me squeeze past. I could see a farm with a field full of cars, which had to be Our Cow Molly farm. But between me and it was yet another bloody valley...
I’d been promising myself a stop for ice-cream (and water), but the queue was huge. It was already 3.30, so I definitely wasn’t going to make Hillsborough for 4, but still I wanted to keep pushing on. Eventually, on the edge of Hillsborough, I found a supermarket where I bought a litre of water and a six pack of cheese and onion rolls-food of the (ultra-running, vegetarian) gods. In the absence of a bench, I sat on a grubby pavement and ate a couple of the rolls. I arrived at the walled garden at 4.45 to find that it had in fact closed at 4.30 rather than 4.00. Damn! If I hadn’t stopped for food, and had just pushed a bit harder and/or not messed my navigation up after Graves park I’d have made it. I walked around the edge of the walled garden, peering through gates, desperately trying to spot the elephant. I was close enough to tag it with the app, but couldn’t see it. Thankfully the walls were too high for me to contemplate climbing them...
From Hillsborough to Meadowhall was a long, not particularly pleasant, haul. The knowledge that I wasn’t going to manage to see all the elephants took the shine off things. And a planned short cut ended up adding a mile on to the route, because I thought I was going even slower than I actually was, mistook the A6102 for a minor road and over-shot a turn. Running past the Northern General brought back painful memories of the week my FIL sent in the ICU there after an (ultimately fatal) heart-attack. And I really wasn’t in the mood for banter from teenagers (‘only 10 miles to go’). They were, coincidentally, about right though.
At Meadowhall I bagged the elephants in the wrong order, but thankfully the shopping centre was still open so I could go through it rather than around the outside. I’d rattled through all the water I bought at Hillsborough and desperately needed some more for the final stage. The toilets only had hot water and the vending machines were all either out of order or out of water. Eventually I found a (filthy...) disabled toilet with a cold tap. Drinking this water didn’t seem like a great idea, but I didn’t have much choice. I sat down by the 3rd and final Meadowhall elephant and refuelled for the final stage with the rest of the cheese and onion rolls.
I’d decided to take the Trans-Pennine trail from Meadowhall to Crystal Peaks. A little bit longer than the shortest road route, but hopefully a lot more pleasant. In fact it turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the day. Apart from a short stretch of industrial estates (where I encountered a fox and a rat) the trail mainly went along canals (bringing back memories of various races) and through parklands. The 8+ miles took me more than 2 hours, but it felt like a lot less. I arrived at Crystals Peaks just before dark, got heckled by some small children and took a rare selfie with my final elephant. The day had been longer, and hillier, than I’d expected so there was no question of run-walking back to the station (not least because I might not have made it back for the last train home...)
It turned out to be a bigger challenge than I was expecting (navigating using an OS map in an urban area is tricky and Sheffield is even hillier than I realised). But it was fun, and a good way to ward off the post holiday blues. Not seeing the elephant in Hillsborough Walled Garden is frustrating, and initially I was planning to repeat the entire exercise. With a few route refinements, and knowing exactly where all the elephants are, I think I could do it significantly quicker. However, on 2nd thoughts I don’t think the route is appealing enough to want to repeat it.
I entered the Northern Traverse (190 miles, from coast to coast along Wainwright’s classic route) as soon as entries opened in June last year. A single stage race, with no support allowed outside the 4 official checkpoints, is right up my street. I was so keen, I even reced the 2nd half of the route, from Kirkby Stephen to St. Bees over the late May bank holiday before it was officially announced.
My masterplan for 2016 was to get really fit for the Viking Way and then after that switch to specific hill training carrying a moderate pack. In fact nothing went right and my priority after the VW was trying to let my sore knees recover. I didn’t do any hill training and only ran more than 15 miles once. And, due to a poorly pet rabbit, the rece of the 1st half of the route I’d planned for the early May bank holiday got postponed until a fortnight before the event.
Pre-race a bit of kit planning was required (but nowhere near as much as the Spine). The main issue was working out what to put in each drop bag (one would go to checkpoints 1 and 3, the other to 2 and 4). Having accumulated lots of gear over the past few years I didn’t really need to get anything new, but did buy a couple of luxuries/treats: an Ultimate Direction PB 3.0 pack (more about this elsewhere) and some poncey coffee bags (more about them later on...). The organisers provided printed 1:25,000 and 1:50, 000 OS maps with the route marked on by post beforehand. However I decided to stick with the Harvey’s maps, since I was familiar with them and they’re nice and compact.
At the end of last year, before my training went down the drain, I did my usual google stalk of the rest of the women’s field. As far as I could tell there was no clear favourite, and the 6 of us who’d entered looked fairly evenly matched. If I’d been feeling fit I’d have used the same approach as I did at the Thames Ring last year: concentrate on moving as fast as I comfortably could for the first 80% and only start thinking about time and position after that if I was feeling good. Given my lack of training and fitness I was instead planning to treat the NT as a sleep-deprived walking holiday. I knew from my reces that I could walk the whole way and finish within the time-limits. The question was whether I should risk potentially messing my knees up by mixing in some running. In the end I decided to try jogging the flats/downhills on day one, with a vague goal of finishing within 4 days if everything went OK.
There were no trains to St. Bees the day before so the organiser, James Thurlow, and his wife Lisa organised a pick up from Grange-over-Sands train station. Getting there by train on a bank holiday weekend with 2 big drop bags was fun. Looking on the bright side, my drop bags made a good seat. I was in exalted company for the pickup, the other 4 people (who included Eoin Keith) had all finished the Spine Race plus either the Tor des Geants or one of the long Arctic Ultras. Everyone was really friendly and down to Earth, but still I felt out of my league.
After sorting my kit out and having a final dinner (of cold pizza and cheese rolls) I went down to the beach to select a pebble to carry to the East Coast. I liked the look of a crescent moon-shaped pebble, but thought it was too nice to throw in the sea at the other end. So I decided to carry two, this one as a keep-sake and another, less appealing, pebble to throw in the sea. I phoned the OH from a weather battered call box and flapped a lot more than I usually do the night before an event. I fussed about whether I should play it safe and just walk the whole way, and got a bit a gentle scolding when telling the story of my lift-from the station (Me: “And all 4 of the other people were Spine Race finishers. OH: “Why did you phrase it like that? Why not ‘All 5 of us...?’).
Stage 1: St. Bees to Patterdale
Registration etc. in the morning was very well organised. I was happy to see drop bags being weighed to check they were under the 15kg limit. Mine were about that half that, but there’ve been other events where I’ve needlessly skimped on kit to meet a limit which then wasn’t checked. When the race started at 10am it was already quite warm. In 2015 the only time there was hot weather was when I was running long events, it looked like 2016 going to be the same. A couple of people asked me if I wasn’t hot, wearing 3/4 tights and a long sleeved top. This combination had worked well before in similar weather. The long sleeved top was in fact very thin and the sleeves can be rolled up during the day. The 3/4 tights are a bit hotter than ideal during the day, but avoid having to change from shorts to tights at night (when I get cold). However one of the consequences of not having done much training was a couple of extra kilos of lard, which would lead later on to (TMI alert!) more sweating and chafing in the undercarriage department...
Along the cliff tops, I jogged the flats and descents. I thought I was keeping up a decent pace, but after a couple of miles I couldn’t see any one ahead or behind me. I wasn’t surprised to be close to the back (and knew that there were a handful of people behind who were planning to walk the whole way). However I was surprised that the rest of the field had already pulled out of sight.
Over the next few miles I caught up with people, as they got lost or stopped for supplies, but they all dropped me again on the steep descent of Dent hill. I’m never good at descending and with my dodgy knees I was taking it even more slowly than usual. There was a bit of a regrouping at Ennerdale Bridge though. It was pretty hot and I’d already finished the 1.5 litres of water I had in my bladder (I had another 0.5 litres in a bottle) and I bought and downed in one a big bottle of cold water. I’d been fancying an ice-cream or lolly, but the cafe was only selling fancy ice-creams which didn’t appeal.
I didn’t think it was worth wasting energy trying to run along the rocky path besides Ennerdale Water and people pulled away from me again. I passed Hisayo, and the bloke she spent the 1st day with, stopped eating lunch and they offered some to me. Dried mango tasted fantastic, and I’ve added it to my food list for the future (not as a big source of calories, but as something which will go down easily when nothing seems appealing, hopefully paving the way for higher calorie food). On the long climb up to Black Sail hut Jesse (who’d gone back to look for his glasses on Dent hill) caught me and we chatted about the Spine race for a bit before he pulled away. I arrived the YH with Hisayo and the bloke she was with. I stopped to refill my bladder and eat the (proper Ginsters) cheese and onion pasty I’d been carrying as a treat from the start, and moved off before them.
The climb up Loft Beck went fine, but the rocky descent to the Slate Mines isn’t my favourite. Quite how slowly I was moving was emphasised as Ben Taylor floated past me, in sandals. And for emphasis he repeated the manoeuvre on the run-in to Seatoller (having presumably stopped at the cafe at the Slate Mine). I made it up and over Greenup Edge, down Far Easdale gill and past James Kirkby taking photos just before it got dark.
I stopped briefly at Thorney How in Grasmere to top up water and kit-up for the night. However it turned out I didn’t need both a thicker long sleeved top and the windproof I’d put on, and I had to stop on the climb up to Grisedale tarn and swap layers around again before I over-heated. It was a bit windy on top and the tents of the people who’d camped there were getting buffeted. This time (unlike my rece, when I’d passed through at dawn) I didn’t feel jealous. I’d not seen anyone since Ben on the descent into Seatoller, but on the descent a head torch appeared behind and started catching me. This prodded me into a jog along the flat and less uneven tracks and road into Patterdale and CP1.
There was a handful of people (including Angela and Clare) at the CP and Hisayo arrived soon after (having finally ditched the bloke who was slowing her down). There were only a handful of walkers behind us, but a lot of people had stopped to sleep. I never manage to sleep properly on the 1st night of an event, so I’d only planned to sleep here if was feeling really tired. I wasn’t, so my plan was to restock my food supplies, change clothes, relube body and feet, eat and get out within an hour. I had a jacket potato with vegan chilli cooked by Joe Faulkner, plus the first of my coffee bags. In the space of 2 minutes Clare and I both managed to inadvertently insult Joe. First Clare asked him if he was vegan. Then, when someone asked about my coffee bag, I explained that I really like coffee, but can’t drink the instant coffee that you get on events. Joe emerged from the kitchen waving a jug of filter coffee...
Stage 2: Patterdale to Kirkby Stephen
Just as I was ready to depart Angela suggested we leave together. However 5 minutes later she was still sorting her kit out, so I said I’d set off and see her when she caught me (which she undoubtedly would since she’d got in to the CP significantly before me). The next stage started with a long haul up to Kidsty Pike, the last climb in the Lakes and the highest point on the route. It was likely to be cold, but I didn’t want to repeat the over-heating mistake I’d made before and set off wearing just a long-sleeved top and wind-proof. This was definitely the right decision, as initially not over-heating and getting sweaty (rather than my legs or lungs) was the limiting factor in how fast I could climb.
At the end of the first part of the climb, I overshot a right turn. I quickly realised I’d gone off route, got my GPS out to double-check and back-tracked. Up above I could see a head-torch: Angela had already caught and passed me. It was very misty, and staying en route between Angle Tarn and The Knott required concentration. As the route climbed it got cold and windy and I stopped to put on my waterproof jacket. Just after Kidsty Pike the clouds parted, revealing dawn had come and a bloke sped past me. He would be the first of a long stream of much faster runners who’d stopped to sleep at Patterdale.
My knees really didn’t like the steep descent to Haweswater. And the sometimes rocky path beside it and subsequent field crossing were a bit of slog. I’d had no problems eating during day one, but now my stomach was distinctly unhappy and forcing food down was a struggle. Plus the sleepless night was beginning to catch up with me. At the TR I’d discovered that a short power-nap at dawn could fool my body into thinking it had slept. So I set my alarm for 5 minutes and laid down with my head on my pack. It wasn’t a particularly successful sleep, first a group of 3 blokes came past and then Hisayo caught up, but it sorted out the sleepiness.
At Shap I stopped at the Co-op for food supplies, but they didn’t have any cheese and onion pasties and the only thing which appealed was chocolate covered Kendal mint cake. I then took advantage of the public toilets to do a non-al-fresco poo, and texted the OH to tell him about it. He’d just been checking the tracker and replied straight away, which perked me up. I was still struggling to eat though. I have a love-hate relationship with Mule bars, when I love them I love them, but here I repeated the ‘regurgitate it into a bush’ experience I had on the LLC130 race last year. There were lots of nice runnable paths (and lots more blokes came running past me), but I didn’t have the energy to run. Eventually I stopped and sat down in the shade and ate the Kendal mint cake. It didn’t seem to help though. It would take me hours to re-catch the random walkers who’d overtaken me during my short sit down.
Eventually the people who I’d been with on day 1 caught up with me (having stopped to sleep at Patterdale). When 2 of them stopped and sat down for lunch I decided shortly afterwards that I fancied another sit down. As I was struggling to eat I couldn’t use lunch as an excuse, but how about checking my feet? They were feeling a bit sore now I thought about it. So I sat down and took my shoes and socks off, and was very glad that I had. The soles were white and macerated (from sweat). So l forced down some Hula hoops while letting them dry out, before relubing them with Sudocrem.
Shortly afterwards Hisayo caught me, and we ran-walked together for a bit. She’s a much faster runner than me, in particular on uneven terrain but wasn’t confident about her navigation (which was fine as far as I could see, every time I met her she was going in the right direction at least). Eventually everyone I’d been with on day 1 passed me and disappeared into the distance as I plodded along with an empty tank. At LLC130 I’d discovered (thanks to a marshal at a CP) that mints help with nausea. So I’d put a packet in my pack and they were now allowing me to keep a drip feed of calories going. I’d eat a mint, and in the 5 minute nauseous free window that followed try to force down as many Hula hoops or as much of a gel as I could. It didn’t help that it was hot and Sunny again, and I was having to ration the 2.5 litres of water I’d left Shap with (there weren’t many streams on this leg which was mostly across farmland). The final climb before Kirkby Stephen dragged on forever. I really didn’t fancy another 2 or 3 days of this. So I resolved to stop at Kirkby Stephen for as long as was necessary to get down a decent amount of food.
Thankfully the CP had a table full of a wide variety of food, plus pizza and lasagne to order. I had a large plate of veg lasagne plus crisps, bread and yoghurt while engaging in more Spine chat with Andy Cole. It was late afternoon and I wasn’t feeling particularly tired, but definitely wanted to get a couple of hours sleep before heading up onto the moors. The sleeping tents were really well organised: one person tents equipped with a mat and numbered so the CP staff could keep track of who was in each one. I set my alarm for 2.25 hours (three 45 minute sleep cycles), but only slept fitfully due to what I thought was a creaking gate. Why hadn’t I chosen my tent more carefully? I contemplated getting up and shutting the gate but decided doing that would just wake me up for good. I eventually gave up on sleeping a bit before my alarm went off.
When I stuck my head out of the tent I discovered I hadn’t in fact picked a tent by an open gate. The tents were pitched along the side of a rugby pitch and the metal advertising sides were oscillating in the wind. Looking on the bright side I’d have had the same problem whichever tent I’d picked. I went back into the CP, ate even more food, had another of my coffee bags and restocked my rucksack with food. While I was doing this, Hisayo left and was surprised to be told that she was the first women to do so.
Stage 3: Kirkby Stephen to Richmond
I’d stupidly not marked the exact location of the CPs on my Harvey map and I spent a while walking up and down the High Street with my GPS out, trying to work out exactly where I was. I went into two different shops, hoping to stock up on treats, but neither of them had cheese and onion pasties or chocolate covered Kendal mint cake (the 2 things I was craving).
It was a pleasant evening and the climb up to Nine Standards Rig went smoothly, with one stop to put my windproof on. I got there at dusk, but it was easy to follow the route across the bog, which was a lot less wet than when I’d reced it last year. The path to Ravenseat was longer and less smooth than I remember, and the weather got cold and wet. I stopped at Ravenseat to put on full body waterproof cover. I was feeling sick and struggling to eat again. I’d eaten a lot at Kirkby Stephen, but not enough to see me through to Richmond. So I sat on a bench at Keld and forced down some Hula hoops before heading back up on to the moors.
On my rece I’d taken the wrong route from Crackpot Hall and ended up on a narrow trod on the side of a steep hill. This time, in the dark, I had no problem finding the main track. Finding the river crossing at Swinner Gill was another story however. I knew exactly where I was, and where I needed to go, but it took 5 minutes of backing and forthing to work out how to do it. The weather on the moor at the top was pretty miserable, which came as a nasty shock after 2 days of sunshine. I wondered how many people would drop out over night (very few it turned out). I forced a gel down, knowing that I’d need to keep moving to keep warm.
At Gunnerside beck I stopped in some disused mine building to put on my fleece. Ducking into the buildings had taken me slightly off-route, and initially I set off in the wrong direction along the beck. I soon realised what I’d done, but it took a while to convince myself that the right path was definitely right (it initially appeared to go in the wrong direction). I scrambled up Bunton Hush by more or less the same route as I took on my rece, but it wasn’t quite the right route as it brought me up onto Melbecks moor a little bit too soon.
I hadn’t seen anyone since the CP, but on the descent to Surrender Bridge just before dawn 3 head-torches started closing on me. I decided not to even try and keep pace, and sat down at the mine workings and forced down a Mars bar. On the field crossings before Reeth I got my usual post dawn sleepiness. I tried to have a 5 minutes power nap, but it was too cold. Our route took a slight deviation from the Coast to Coast route just before Reeth, and the paths between fields were littered with dead (or in one case dying...) rabbits, which wasn’t particularly pleasant.
At Reeth I was happy to discover that the public toilets were unlocked and I laid down on the floor of the ladies and had a 10 min nap. This perked me up, and for the first time in a long time I managed to do some running. The downside of this, and the rising temperature, was that I kept needing to stop to remove layers. On the field crossings between Marrick and Marske it kept raining on and off. Annoyingly the rain was heavy enough to wet out a windproof, but when it wasn’t raining it was too warm for wearing a waterproof. So I ended up doing more changes of clothes in 2 hours than I’d usually do in a week. At least that’s how it felt.
I ran out of energy again on the run into Richmond and the last few miles seemed to take forever. It was becoming clear that I needed to change my eating strategy. Drip-feeding calories in the form of gels, Mars Bars and Hula Hoops had worked well in the past, but it wasn’t working here. I decided I needed to get hold of some more substantial food, and have bigger food breaks during stages. I also realised that the nausea seemed to peak in the hours following my (precious...) coffee bags. So maybe it wasn’t instant coffee that caused me stomach problems when running, but all coffee. No more coffee bags for me. On my way through Richmond I stopped at a petrol station and bought 4 cheese and onion rolls to see me through the next stage.
Once more I would rue not having marked the exact location of the CP on my map. I knew it was on the far side of Richmond, but it wasn’t where I though it was going to be, slightly off route. And I was getting dangerously close to passing right through Richmond. After wandering around pointlessly for a bit I phoned the OH and asked him to look up where it was on the race web-site. This took a while, and I got a bit (possibly a lot...) princessy, wondering why no-one had spotted me wandering around in circles and come to get me. It turned out the rugby club was just up the road, and if I’d carried on for another 50 metres I’d have seen the signs.
This CP was being run by Jon and Shirley Steele, who run the Hardmoors series of events. And again there was a great selection of food. I knew I needed to get lots of calories onboard again, so set about eating veggie stew, sandwiches and yogurts, before heading to a tent to sleep. I was warned that the weather was really bad at the next and final CP at the Lion Inn and that there might not be anywhere to sleep there. I decided to try and increase my planned sleep from 2.25 to 3 hours. I slept better than at Richmond, but was wide awake again after 2 and a bit hours.
I ate some more food, toast and sandwiches, and was feeling pretty perky. So perky I started spouting random crap at random people (which is very unlike me, I’m usually very quiet around people I don’t know well). While I was eating Angela left, having not slept, while Hisayo had left while I was sleeping. I relubed my feet for the next stage and discovered a small blister, the size of a 5p, in the middle of the ball of one of my feet. I drained it, but didn’t tape it, hoping that it was so small it wouldn’t cause problems.
Stage 4: Richmond to Lion Inn
I wasn’t looking forward to the endless flat field between Richmond and Ingleby Cross and I dug out my iPod and selected a random mix of cheesy chart dance and (not too heavy) metal. On my rece this section had really dragged, but hitting it ‘fresh’ and relatively well fuelled it didn’t seem so bad. I was determined to do a better job of eating during this stage, and stopped just before Catterick to eat the first of my cheese and onion rolls. Just before Danby Wiske two blokes moving at a decent pace caught me, and I managed to keep them in sight for 5 minutes at least.
At Danby Wiske I stopped outside the pub to eat another roll and check out my foot, which was feeling sore. The blister had got significantly bigger, so I drained it again and taped it. Outside one of the many farms there was a cooler full of flapjacks. I dithered as to how many I should buy. As there weren’t many left I decided to just have one, so there’d be some left for the rest of the people coming though that night. Just before the A19, as it was getting dark, I could hear two people catching me (I’m guessing the pair who’d caught me before Danby Wiske had stopped at the pub). I could only hear one side of the conversation, which was a bit irritating, and motivated me to increase the gap, for a little while at least. I stopped at the petrol station next to the A19 and bought another pasty and a flapjack. The woman behind the counter had obviously already encountered people doing the race, and asked me whether it was safe to be going up onto the moors on my own at night. A lot safer than working here I thought, but kept it to myself. I was careful though not to draw attention to myself (there were a lot of lorries parked up for the night) as I left the shop and headed to the toilets to eat and layer up for the night.
Restarting is a common time for navigation errors, and for no good reason I turned left when I should have gone straight on in Ingleby Cross. Having been too awake to sleep in the toilets at the petrol station I was now feeling tired, so decided a 5 minute power nap would be a good idea before heading onto the moors. Again restarting lead to a silly nav error where I turned too soon onto a track parallel to the route. This one was an understandable mistake, but I should have realised that the rutted over-grown track I was fighting my way along wasn’t the Cleveland Way sooner.
Crossing Scarth Wood Moor was fine, but when I dropped back into the woods I was really sleepy again and nearly walked right past a marked turn. Time for another power nap. Just before the climb up to Live Moor I sat down, and forced down a caffeinated gel plus some caffeine tablets for good measure. Initially I was still so sleepy I kept slapping myself and singing along to my iPod to stay awake. ‘Now you’re gone... “, Guns n’ Roses got me across the Cheviots on the Spine, Basehunter would get me across the North York Moors! Eventually the combination of the caffeine and the strong, damp wind woke me up. I descended the steps towards Lord Stones carefully, now would not be the time or place for a fall.
There was a light outside Lord Stones, and I initially wondered if it was someone out waiting for me. I was slightly disappointed when I realised the light was attached to a building, but set about trying to find some shelter to sit down and eat. The women’s toilets were locked, but as a last resort I tried the disabled toilet and was delighted to find it not just open, but heated. I sat on the floor and ate another roll and a flapjack (I tried and failed to eat the pasty from the petrol station; it had the taste and texture of a brick so it ended up in the bin). Somewhat frustratingly I now wasn’t feeling tired, so I set off to do the three hills before Clay Bank.
The weather was really wet and cold (I’m not sure whether it was actually raining, or whether it was ‘just’ the wind blowing the cloud/mist). I’ve been out in far worse weather, but this was the most exposed I’ve ever felt. I wasn’t particularly cold and I still had a spare hat and gloves in my pack, but I was wearing all the rest of my kit and didn’t like not having a spare layer. Trying to playing it safe I looked at the map carefully and located ‘bail out’ routes off of the moors, in case something went wrong and I need them. I also kept constantly monitoring whether I was getting colder and stopped briefly in the relative shelter between each of the hills to force some food down.
On the climb back up after Clay Bank I got really, really sleepy, to the extent it felt like I was sleep walking. The clouds on the top were really dense, and I had the best ‘hallucinations’ I’ve ever had, rows of buildings and even a little old lady in my peripheral vision. Hallucinations is in inverted commas though, because I didn’t, even for a second, think any of the things I was ‘seeing’ were real. I’d love to experience proper hallucinations, and have extended conversations with non-existent gnomes. However I suspect my hyper-rational physicists brain is never going to let that happen...
I told myself I’d force another gel down at Blowarth crossing and that, combined with a strong tail wind, perked me up. Apart from 2 sections where the route turned so it was perpendicular or anti-parallel to the wind (and I struggled to even stand up) I ran all the way to the Lion Inn and arrived there half an hour sooner than I’d estimated when I left Clay Bank. Along the way I pondered what I was going to do when I got to the CP. The final stage was the shortest however there was another ~8 miles of high moorland after the Lion Inn and didn’t think that carrying on in this weather while sleep deprived was a great idea. What was I going to do if they hadn’t managed to get the sleeping tents up? I wondered if it would be possible (or allowed even) to get a room at the Inn for a couple of hours.
To my surprise, and happiness, there was someone waiting outside in the howling wind. They took me through the pub (which felt a bit awkward as the tables were being set for lunch) to a corridor, where people were drying kit and there were toilets/showers. I organised my kit for the next stage. We’d been told that drop bags needed to be waterproof as they’d be kept outside at times. I thought that North Face holdalls would be good enough, but they didn’t keep out the driving rain at the Lion Inn. Anything which wasn’t in a drybag was slightly wet, but thankfully the clothes I wanted to wear were OK. I then stripped off what I thought were going to be wet layers. Outside I’d been convinced that my waterproofs had wetted out and I was soaked through. In fact the outside of my fleece was slightly damp, but otherwise me and my layers were bone-dry. I guess I’d mistaken cold for wet. I then got in the shower and discovered that there was absolutely no water (hot or cold). There was another shower along the corridor but I couldn’t be bothered getting dressed and undressed again (and there was someone outside in the corridor sorting kit, which ruled out sprinting along the corridor naked...). I washed as well as I could in the sink, got dressed and re-taped my foot. I put on thermal tights knowing that they’d probably be too warm once I got down into the valley, but my priority was staying warm while up on the moors.
I’d been told that the CP was ‘being run out the back of a van’ as it had been too windy to get a marquee up. I’d imagined huddling outside in the rain and wind, while food and drinks were served from the back of the van. However in fact the CP was literally being run inside a not too huge transit van: there was a table full of food, a stove for hot food and drinks and half a dozen plastic chairs. The downside was that the condensation rained off the ceiling at random intervals. I had some veg chilli, crisps, yogurts and lots of lots of heavily buttered bread (I stopped after 3rds on the grounds that I shouldn’t eat all the bread). Luckily they had got the sleeping tents up and I had a ~45 minute sleep before faffing with my kit and heading off.
Stage 5: Lion Inn to Robin Hood’s Bay
The first mile or so along the road after the CP was into a headwind, and making any sort of forward progress was a battle (there’s a video showing Eoin Keith having similar problems, which makes me feel less of a wuss). And things got even worse when the route turned off road and into ankle deep water. This was not fun by any definition of the word fun. Eventually I reached the descent to Glaisdale, which I should at least have jogged. But it was too rocky for my increasingly sore feet. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I inadvertently took a long cut into Glaisdale, not having spotted when marking up my map that our route deviated from the Harvey route. I sat on a park bench, removed some layers and ate my remaining cheese and onion roll, and redressed my foot. I was now out of ‘proper’ food, but walked past a small shop, on the grounds that there was bound to be a better shop in Grosmont.
The weather in the valley was quite pleasant and I had to stop again to remove more layers. Forgetting that I was back in civilisation I had a wee by the side of the trail, and narrowly avoided being caught mid-stream by a family out for a walk. I failed to spot a shop in Grosmont, so refuelled with Hula hoops for the big climb out. I’d been dreading this climb. In the past I’ve really struggled with climbs towards the end of events. But it was fine, and I even managed to jog along the flat at the top. Until the blister on my foot burst. It was a bit too chilly to stop there, so I limped down to Littlebeck, where I knew there was a bench. The taping had stopped the blister spreading across the ball of my foot, but instead it was spreading down my foot. I drained and retaped it for the n-th time.
The woods after Littlebeck were really muddy and took forever. It didn’t help that I had to stop several times to do huge wees. I’m not sure what was going on. Possibly I’d drunk too much on the first two days, trying to cool myself down. I made another small navigation error after the Hermitage. Initially my route looked right, but it brought me out on the wrong side of the river at Midge Hall, and required a bit of bank scrambling to put right.
Back up onto the moors and our route deviated from the Harvey’s route that I’d reced. Even with my GPS in hand I was convinced that the path was going in the wrong direction. I was happy that I had reced this stage though, as otherwise the loop up the coast to Hawsker would have been incredibly demoralising. For a while I’d entertained thoughts of finishing in time for last orders, but it had become clear that that wasn’t going to happen.
Just after dark, close to the end of the final moor, I randomly looked back and saw two head-torches. In retrospect, worrying about loosing 2 places seems a bit silly. But at the time (possibly due to memories of getting overtaken by Rich Cranswick close to the end of the Thames Ring) I really didn’t want to get caught so close to the finish. At the TR there was nothing I could have done to keep up with Rich (short of strapping a rocket to my bum). However these head torches were walking rather than running, so maybe I could hold them off. It briefly crossed my mind that the duo could be Angela and Hisayo. But I quickly dismissed that: I hadn’t seen them since Richmond so how would they have got behind me?
I resolved to get some food down, nail finding the rocky track which led off of the moors, stay upright going down the track and then try and run the road into Hawsker. For the first time in days I was hungry and hoovered down all the savoury food in my pack, including a packet of crushed Ritz crackers I’d been carrying from the start. My legs felt as good as they had for weeks and I ran (slightly downhill...) all the way to Hawsker, pausing only at the junctions to double check the route. Passing through what appeared to be an impromptu roadside junkyard a bloke who was randomly rearranging doors told me that I wasn’t going to run all the way to Robin Hood’s Bay, because it was another 5 miles. (I later discovered that he was dispensing pearls of joy, such as ‘it’s really windy on the cliff tops, you’ll get blown off’ to everyone who passed. Comparatively I got off lightly...)
Eddy was waiting in Hawsker and flagged me down to have my photo taken in front of the Robin Hood’s Bay road sign. I ran the rest of the road and turned off towards the caravan park. I knew the route turned right through a caravan park, so when I saw a caravan park I did just that, without checking the map. However I couldn’t find the route off of the caravan park. Eventually I found my way on to a bridleway, and spotted another caravan park between me and the sea. And (with the aid of my GPS) the penny dropped, I’d forgotten there were 2 caravan parks and the route turned right through the 2nd caravan park. I eventually toyed with going ‘off piste’ to the 2nd caravan park, but in the end played it safe (and followed the rules) and back-tracked.
I’d assumed I’d opened up a gap on the head-torches behind by running the road, but how much of it had I just thrown away? I couldn’t see head-torches ahead or behind, so I resolved to move as fast as I comfortably could, while making sure I didn’t screw my navigation up again. The final few miles along the coast dragged, but I kept moving at a decent pace and couldn’t see any head-torches behind me. My phone pinged, with what I guessed was a text message from the OH, but I didn’t want to waste time stoping to read it. In one of the final fields I swerved to avoid a rock, and then had a huge shock when the rock stood up. It was in fact a (thankfully docile) cow.
The final steep decent into Robin Hood’s Bay was painful on my knees, but I managed to run the last bit in to the finish, where RD James Thurlow was waiting. He said something about me being first lady. And my reaction was ‘what? what happened to Angela and the Japanese woman?’ (I was too tired to even try pronouncing Hisayo’s name). It turned out that I’d passed them (Angela ‘on the road’ and Hisayo at the Lion Inn) and they were both not too far behind. The two head-torches I’d seen were actually two blokes who were in the gap between us. The blokes eventually finished just under an hour after me, so my push for the finish was (despite the nav error) fairly effective.
I fumbled around in my pack to find my carefully stashed pebbles, and then took a while to work out which one I wanted to keep, and which one to throw in the sea. James asked my what I wanted to eat and radioed my request of veg pizza to Lisa at the village hall at the top of the hill. There was a competition for the fastest time back up the hill, but there was no way I was going to do anything other than power walk. At the village hall I phoned the OH. He’d been watching the tracker and had stayed up to speak to me (the text he’d sent on the run-in would have revealed I was 1st woman, if I’d read it). I then ate all of a huge pizza, got changed and dozed until Hisayo and Angela finished, as James wanted to get a podium photo of us together. I was getting my usual post race ‘feet being hit with hammers’ sensation, so there was no danger of me sleeping properly until the painkillers kicked in. The downside of the dozing is that while Hisayo and Angela look fresh (and runner like) I look like a random person who’s wandered in off the street and is a bit confused about why they’ve been given a (very fancy) trophy saying ‘first lady’. I’m not photogenic at the best of times, and this was definitely not the best of times.
After the photos I managed to get a few decent hours sleep, before eating even more food and walking to the bus stop for the multi-stage journey home (and jokes about being married to the president of the Northern Traverse...).
I’m satisfied with how it went. I made a few too many silly nav errors. However otherwise I did a pretty good job of playing the (not particularly good) cards I was dealt, both in the run up to and during the event. Being the 1st woman to finish was a nice surprise, but definitely due to luck rather than judgement. I’m surprised, given how little running I did, that I finished in the middle of the field overall. I suspect I moved slower than almost everyone behind me, but spent a larger fraction of the time moving. If everything had gone to plan this year I’m guessing I could maybe have finished 6-8 hours faster, which wouldn’t have moved me much further up the field. I’m better on the flat than in the hills, but my impression is that the front of the field here was a lot stronger than at the flatter events I’ve done `down South’.
- mark CP locations on the map carefully
- watch out for silly nav errors when restarting after a break
- a single rece, a year out is not sufficient to commit the route to memory
- don’t drink any sort of coffee while running, ever.