Race 1 of 12 in the 2017 Runfurther ultra-running championships.
‘The Hobble’ always has a fast and competitive attendance but this year’s depth of field was exceptional. In addition to its familiar status as the first Runfurther race of the year and the first (arguably the largest) annual gathering of quality trail and fell ultra-runners, it was also a qualifying race for an international ultra-running championship. For the first time ever, entries had to be closed in advance at 500. The size of the entry was reflected by the registration queue, which wound its way out of the school, up the path, up the steps and onto the road, while the queue for the eight Portaloos snaked back and forth around the school grounds. A late start was certain. I was amazed when we were only barely 15 minutes late in shuffling our way up the Haworth cobbles towards Cemetery Road. Race organiser Brett, out of sight and earshot up the hill at the head of the throng, must have given the sign. Hundreds of conversations were suddenly cut short as we got on with the day’s task.
Gassing until the G of the silent BANG.
Bronte Bridge was soon reached. My shoelaces were already coming undone. The first climb to the stile queue provided the ideal opportunity to get them sorted out with double knots. We snaked our way via the first photographers of the day to Top Withins and down to the Walshaw Dean Reservoirs. The flagstones, which thankfully were dry (apart from the submerged ones, obviously) made for easy running, while the runner at the front of the queue prevented overdoing of the effort early on.
Climbing from Bronte Bridge.
I was feeling good as we approached the first checkpoint at Widdop Reservoir (7.6 miles). Rick Ansell, a familiar face for many years on these events, overtook me for the final time as we climbed away from the reservoir. He slowly disappeared ahead on the long crossing to Hurstwood Reservoir. A steady stream of runners was now overtaking me. True to form, my slowdown had already begun. The leader over Top Withins must have been too fast after all. I’d probably need to set off walking to avoid a slowdown.
Rick follows me out of CP1. He would finish 53 minutes ahead.
The turbines on steroids (they’re much bigger than they used to be) loomed into view as we approached Checkpoint 2 at Long Causeway (13.3 miles). The aerofoils disappeared into the cloud base at the top of their rotation but the day was already shaping up to be warm. What little breeze there was had disappeared, and humidity was high. I grabbed a quick biscuit in the hope that its energy would somehow find its way into my legs and keep me going until Checkpoint 3 at Mount Cross (15 miles).
HOT DOGS, with cooked onions! I stumbled away from CP3 down the washed-out, freely swilling footpath-cum-stream bed in scoffing heaven. Ketchup smeared my chops. This would keep me going for a bit.
Sustenance at CP3.
For the first time ever we had to queue at the stile at the bottom in Todmorden. The event really was busy. The climb up the other side was laboured, to say the least. The hot dog didn’t quite have the effect I’d been wanting. The legs were emptying fast. Perhaps the whisky at Checkpoint 4 at Mankinholes (19.2 miles) would sort me out, if there’s any left.
TWO BOTTLES! AMERICAN OAK CASKS!! A snifter was dispensed and a fairy cake was downed to put out the fire.
A cheeky little snifter at CP4.
I set off running along the path to the foot of Stoodley Pike with renewed vigour. That’s as far as it lasted. The haul up to the Pike wasn’t pretty. The run/walk down the other side towards Hebden Bridge wasn’t much better. Andy and Sarah Norman caught me up on the descent down the road. Comments to the effect of “what are you doing back here?” were made. On the steep climb up the steps towards Heptonstall I virtually ground to a halt with no energy, jelly legs and feeling faint. I held onto the hand rails like some unfit thing who hardly ventures out of the house. Andy and Sarah said I should be speeding on miles ahead as they left me for dead in their wake. “Something’s not right”, I thought. “Perhaps I should go to the doctor for a full service and MOT”. Walking as fast as I could go up the road to Heptonstall I was still getting overtaken, but all the overtakers were walking too. I looked forward to the next food infusion at Checkpoint 5, New Bridge (24.5 miles).
Descending to Hebden Bridge before the haul up to Heptonstall.
JAM DOUGHNUTS! I sank my teeth into a soft, moist, luxuriously juicy example as I shuffled my way onwards and upwards. I was still getting overtaken by others whose walking was more energetic than mine.
I had just about missed my previous PB finish time (5:58) by the time I arrived at Checkpoint 6 at Grain Water Bridge (27 miles). Another refill of my water bottle and I was off up the road without wasting a second, in pursuit of anyone in my sights. I was overheating in the humid, stagnant air so I removed my long-sleeved running top. I felt an energy return as my sweat began to evaporate and cool me down. Running vest was far more appropriate right now. I walked and shuffled my way to Top of Stairs (yes, really), picking off one or two along the way. However, the group I was really targeting pulled away on the descent of the treacherous rocky track towards Lower Laithe Reservoir. I didn’t trust my clumsy jelly legs down that so clumsy bimble it was for me. I downed my second gel of the day to get me over Penistone Hill without getting caught. It must have worked because I continued to be the one doing the catching. However, it wasn’t quite enough to avoid another PW. I ran in to the finish in 6:51, equalling my PW of 2015, nicely in the bottom 29% of finishers. The good thing was, I didn’t feel wasted afterwards so I was fit for a productive first Runfurther committee meeting of the year and late return home. Being unable to run fast (or run at all) can have its advantages.
Seconds to finish.
Now if we look to the front end of the race, Thomas Payne was the first in 3:54:18 and first woman was Julie Briscoe in 4:31:54. Astonishingly, the first eight finished in under 4 hours. Furthermore, the previous record (I have no idea) was broken by the first few finishers (can anyone fill me in on the details?). I can image less what it must be like to cover that distance on foot over that terrain in that time than it must be to teleport, shape-shift, levitate or penetrate a wormhole through the space-time continuum to the finishing desk.
I took some pictures, which tend to concentrate around checkpoints when I wasn’t exerting my supreme efforts, or dying on a climb and seizing an opportunity for a few seconds' rest.
SportSunday's pictures are here.
Here are the the WoodenTops pictures: