I joined the 400-500 other runners in Haworth’s quaint little cobbled high street for the start and got myself right at the back of the field. I couldn’t hear a word of the organiser’s announcements but soon we were off. It’s not often that you start a race with a walk but the high street was pretty steep and walking was definitely the sensible option. Let’s not get hot headed…there’s quite a way to go yet!
As we left the roads for the Bronte Way we could see the low level cloud in the valley ahead and it wasn’t long before the beautiful blue skies were replaced with thick clag. On the run down to Bronte Bridge I found myself in enough space to get into a nice pace and just enjoyed the warm up. At Bronte Bridge (2.5 miles in) there is a steep pull up the far side of the valley and a stile which crosses a barbed wire fence. By the time I got there an impressive queue had formed and it took five shivering minutes for me to get over and start running again. We were quickly met by two further stiles (and queues) which really made you feel cold. After this it was congestion-free running all the way.
Visibility was down to 100m as we ran down the Pennine Way to Walshaw Dean Reservoir, which appeared eerily out of the mist. I found myself in the middle of a group of three (one male and two female) who were running together and looking very strong. I also bumped into a lady called Shirley who I had met at last years Long Tour of Bradwell. Chatting made the miles fly by and we were soon through the first two check points and heading up the first big hill just after Cant Clough reservoir. I took the opportunity to eat a ham sandwich on the walk up.
The run down to checkpoint three, at the causeway, was a really nice stretch and as I dropped into a nice, comfortable pace I started to slowly move up through the field. We had a very muddy diversion around Stiperden House and I lost both shoes in the space of 100m. Luckily I managed to fish them out and I made sure the laces were tied that bit tighter.
Checkpoint 4, around 15 miles, led to an interesting change. This was the first point were there was proper food and hot drinks available and lots of runners had stopped here. I went straight through and so I suddenly found I was running with lots of new faces. There were many people around and so the run down the complex of lanes and footpaths to Todmorden, which looked intimidating on the map, was made easy.
We had a really nasty little climb up to checkpoint 5 in Mankinholes then another up to Stooley Pike. I really felt this was a significant point in the race. From here we would turn north and head back to the finish. I was also 20 miles in and feeling great. I really had learned my lessons and my pacing and fuelling was obviously working a treat today.
I had my first feeling of fatigue on the run down to Hebden Bridge, which was a mega steep road. We came around a corner and there far beneath us was this beautiful village. It might have just been lack of oxygen but it really blew me away; what a sight! The steep descent tempted you to push hard, daring you to just bust your quads with many miles still to go. I eased back, allowing a couple of people to pass but determined to protect my legs.
At Hebden Bridge we were met with some evil steps to climb up to the road to Heptonstall, which was uphill all the way and pretty much walked entirely. There was a bit of confusion over exactly where the path to New Bridge left the village but we eventually found it and were off running again. This was a lovely section through the woods and again I was just stunned at how good I was feeling and how much I was enjoying this race.
A few people were sitting about at checkpoint 8, Horse Bridge, but I quickly topped up my water and my electrolyte bottle and was off. After some indecision I spotted the correct footpath over the bridge just as a nice lady on a horse decided to help me. She wanted to know where I was going so she could make sure I was heading the right way but I just couldn’t get my brain to think of the name of the place. I really didn’t need help (I was holding a map in my hand) but she was being really friendly so rather than rudely run off I stopped while I tried to remember what the bloody place was called. Eventually it came to me. “Howarth!” “Yes, yes, that’s the right path” and so I was running again.
We now faced mile upon mile of uphill slog, gentile enough to run in parts but too steep to run entirely at this point in the race. It flattened off for a mile or two of lovely running before checkpoint nine (which I passed straight through, though I later found out I missed out on the jam donuts that they had there) and onto the last big uphill to Top of Stairs.
What a feeling to reach the top of this hill and be looking at several miles of gentle down hill! I had a fantastic run down to Leeshaw Reservoir but was starting to feel tired now. I wasn’t in any pain, everything was still functional but I was happy to be getting close to the finish. We just had one more hill and I tried to really put the effort in to keep run/walking up this.
Before I knew it we were coming over the top and dropping down into Howarth’s busy high street. A couple of left turns, the steep little hill to the school and it was all over. I sat down in the afternoon sunshine to enjoy my post-race meal (included in the £11 entry fee!). A superb event!
I finished in 6:34; a good hour faster than I had expected. I was 178th / 273 (teams count as a single runner on the rankings so there were more runners in front and behind me).
I was running this primarily as a long training run for the Highland Fling. It looks like I am much fitter than I thought and the training plan has worked. My refuelling went well too, and I paced it just right. I also recovered really well from this one. All in all a massive confidence boost.