Monday, 28 June 2010
Swaledale Marathon – Circular 23.3 mile route from Reeth, up and around some fine moors then back via Gunnerside
It doesn’t get much better than this, a late Friday at work meant a 5.30am Saturday morning drive up the A1 under a cloudless sky to Grinton Bridge car park to rendezvous with my Tickhill clubmates, great to do my trail stuff with fellow club members and it made a real difference to belong to a small pack!.
Looking round this dale, I realised that I hadn’t been up here for 29 years and had forgotten how steep it all is, Fremlington Edge towered above us with Reeth village, to our left, dwarfed by Reeth Low Moor - Low indeed! We`d be back round those parts this afternoon, on our last dash to the finish, but not for a few hours yet.
This was my first Swaledale, so I had no idea what would constitute a respectable finishing time. Under 5 hours would be ok, as I did feel really undercooked – not having done any meaningful running for what seemed like weeks with typical late spring Flu and throat infections to boot ... but, was never gonna miss it, its great to be back.
So, off went the bell at 9.30 and I realised that I was actually at the wrong end of the field – behind most of the walkers! Therefore eight tickhill runners shuffled up the steep track looking slightly incongruous amongst heavy rucksacked hikers. The banter was great but I was itching to get away and towards the top of the first climb to Fremlington Edge I managed to break into clear track and the left turn onto the ridge heading north saw the start of the first run of the day. The view from here, up along the tops, was the first of many spectacular vistas but then suddenly and quickly, like all these jaunts, we are back in the valley bottom via a steep green sheep cropped sward, past Storthwaite Hall and a cooling stream side jog by Arkle Beck in welcome dapple. The first signs of life! through Langthwaite, a sharp left over the Humpback Bridge and gentle applause propelled us back north passed the church and onto checkpoint 1.
I felt good here and after the jelly babies and fresh water decided to press on and try to run the steep sections of road – made a creditable effort into the wilds of Arkengarthdale and got a taste for more of the glorious views we were to enjoy all day, brought back down a little when across the dale, the snake of runners could be just made out climbing Great Punchard Gill – it looked miles away!! Fantastic and so determindely, counting batches of 50 steps at a time, I made another decent fist up to the top.
Crossing from Great Punchard Head, across Punchard Moor and down Friarfold Rake was possibly the worse section. I do love a wind blown, cottton filled top but it was a bit wet underfoot and I do travel like an orc across such terrain and then as the underfoot went from bog to shingle and hard rock of the rake then I was head over ears ... yet again I make a habit of getting bloody knees. By now a steady pack of runners was assembled , a surprising amount from South Yorkshire, so I did my usual cheap trick of filling the water bottle and going straight through the checkpoint after a quick clip – this put me in a good position and I found myself happily alone along winterings with more spectacular views then down through Gunnerside Gill into the village, again past a cheering bunch outside the village pub before a soaking by water pistol toting children at the village checkpoint – much to the amusement of all and my intense relief.
A nasty little climb out of Gunnerside heading back east reduced me to a slow walk but I was conscious to keep going – detemined not to be overtaken now 18 miles out but it was a long draw to the back of Reeth Low Moor. On rounding the Hill I happened across another Tickhill runner – great to see Phil enjoying his day on the hills though I do suspect he prefers the roads!!! And he was finishing manfully despite sciatic nerve trouble which these undulating courses inevitably do exagerate. I avoid these problems it seems by constantly falling down.
There’s always a stoney drovers lane back into these Dales towns and villages and Reeth is no exception. This one, Skelgate Lane, being staggeringly narrow, full of loose boulders and nettles, proves the final test of footwork. Eventually it's a stumble out onto the road and into the village past the Buck Hotel and round into the finish; again it appeared that most of swaledale had appeared to cheer us home.
Just as I was enjoying my 4 hour 51 min finish, I was shocked to see our club coach – Christine – sitting in the hall with bandaged head and hand; quiet and quite bloodstained. I, along with most of us, take it all for granted but here was proof of the dangers of “off road” descending, she took a proper trip andfall amongst the rocks and it aint a soft landing! Thanks to all the rescue and support services for getting her back in one piece (mostly), I’m sure a few beers dulled the pain later that evening. I’ll be back next year to do this again, its a great event, so well organised and supported but must remember to get the application in early, I now know why!.