People were saying that 2011 provided the best weather in the history of this event, which I can quite believe. Every time I’ve run it there has been one constant – cold that gnaws into you. Add to that any number of variables – frost, snow, sleet, rain, swilling mud and wind. This year it was calm, warm and sunny with cloudless blue sky. The only cloud was at ground level in the form of fog, which clung to the valleys and sometimes wafted over the ridges. The day was pure magic and Nidderdale LDWA did us proud once again with their friendly organisation and support. It was a sell-out with no entries on the day – a good accolade for an event based in Askrigg, which could be regarded as being a bit out of the way. For most it takes considerable effort to get there, do the event and get back home in one day.
Although we ran through some wet and muddy patches it was nowhere near as liquid as in previous years. The low river levels in the valleys and the dried-up stream bed reminded me once again of the lack of substantial rain this year. We don’t often get to see such low river levels in summer, let alone in late November.
Martin Dietrich arrives at checkpoint 3.
I came to a fork and took the left across the stream. I felt unsure so I dithered and backtracked. I finally got my map out but I could not make my plotted route fit what I was seeing. I checked my compass and confirmed that I was descending in the correct direction (NE), so I carried on. No-one had caught me up like should have happened with all my dithering, which added to my concern. The track became a tarmac lane, whereas the track I should have been on turns sharp right and left with steep rocky descent to the tarmac, where I would turn left.
I jogged on, hoping that all would become clear. Two workmen on my right were smiling as I passed. The smiles might have been leers and a sarcastic comment might have been on the tips of their tongues. I offered a friendly “Hello” to test them and got the same in return, from both of them! The warm November sun must be doing some good, I thought. I passed some discarded fluorescent fittings on my left (4' singles, tubes included, since you ask). They looked perfectly serviceable and I thought they might come in handy one day, but I was already carrying two drink bottles and might have struggled to carry them. I passed them by with a heavy heart. ;-)
Shortly I saw some other runners ahead descending from the left to the lane I was on. I realised what had happened. I had somehow found myself on the alternative right-hand parallel descent down Side Road, which I had always been aware of on the map but never taken. Now I’d taken it by accident. It was good to try out the alternative for the first time, even though it was inadvertent. I might just take it every time from now on as there is little to choose between it and the intended Haw Lane descent, and there is no proscribed route description to oblige us to take a particular route.
I arrived at CP5 in Thoralby Village Hall, a fraction under halfway, in 2:05 or so, having wasted what must have been 10 minutes with my navigational dithering. Since I always slow down as events progress, I knew already that my PB of 4:04 was way outside my grasp. Still, so what? The day was beautiful and I would get to spend longer out in it, innit?
As I crossed the main road at Aysgarth to the church drive, the bells began to peel to call everyone to the Sunday service. I have not heard this for a good few years. I must have been late enough this year to hear them once again. The lopped trees that lined the drive still had plenty of green leaves, which contrasted well with the golden colours of autumn on others – not bad for late November. The absence of frost so far has delayed the fall.
The church near Aysgarth.
As I emerged from our latest fog blanket, Bolton Castle, the position of the next manned checkpoint, glowed on the other side of the valley as it basked in permanent sunshine. My legs were leaden as usual and I walked at 3.5mph or shuffled at 4.5mph for as long as I could switch my mind off the discomfort. I was enjoying taking photographs to provide some sort of excuse for my turn of slowness. I glanced at my watch and suspected that even a sub 4:30 finish was out of the question. Other runners had been overtaking me since the start but I had been alone for a while now. I walked up past the castle to CP9 at Castle Bolton, getting caught and catching up at the same time. I had company once again.
Bolton Castle basks in the late November sunshine.
Checkpoint 9 at Castle Bolton.
Ivy Scar and disused lead mine workings.
Leaving checkpoint 10; 1.2 miles to the finish.
I hit the road and ran downhill to the final little rise, which slowed me down alarmingly, before descending to the final left turn. Then I did something I wouldn’t normally do. I overtook another runner just 10 yards from the village hall. I couldn’t help it. I was on a roll and wasn’t going to slow down now in the interests of good manners and gentlemanly behaviour. “You first.” “No, please, after you.” I hoped he wouldn’t mind. I checked in and turned around to shake his hand and offer my congratulations as he arrived. He was cool. :-)
My time was 4:27, which was better than I had feared. However, the conditions were the best ever, yet I have run it faster on 4 occasions and slower on only 2 occasions. It’s a case of ‘must do better’. Am I finally over the hill? Judging by this year’s virtual absence of PBs, I have to assume so.
After refuelling and chatting for an hour or two, I set off on the long walk back to the car parking area in the factory yard. On the way I passed a view that I have always admired in Askrigg but have never before seen in such a good light. I got my camera out for the final time to photograph the ancient stone-flagged footpath that winds its way up the fields towards the church with the escarpment providing the backdrop.
Askrigg in November.