Monday, 11 June 2012

Swaledale Marathon - 9th June 2012

How did I manage to record exactly the same time as last year - 4 hours 25 minutes - completing this cracking 24 miler around the eastern end of Swaledale taking in Reeth, Langthwaite, Punchard Head, Gunnerside Gill, Gunnerside and a multitude of trail types?

Simples! I got a little better through experience, an improvement in general fitness and chuck in a bit o` weight loss. But, these gains were countered by the route being a whole lot harder today, very warm, very wet on the top and boggy tracks that swallowed whole legs if you weren`t careful. The positives matched the negatives, one cancelled t`other out: result - stalemate.

Try as I might at the end, the tanks were empty and nothing was going to make any difference. Last year 78th, this year 49th in the field so I'll take that result any day.

Driving into the jaws of the Northern Dales, at around 7.00am, offered little suggestion of what weather we were going to be faced with. The early morning sun knifed through heavy clouds giving some outstanding views, especially across the opening to Wensleydale...

There was, however, plenty of heavy black clouds which portended possible trouble ahead - if only we knew just what we`d eventually receive!.

Back to the car park field at Grinton and a glimpse up to Fremington Edge confirmed to me:

  • The sun was going to be out a good deal
  • This is going to be a great day out in the hills
  • That the climb to the Edge is as steep as ever
  • That the tops are going to be soaking; what with the level of the Swale behind us.

Then the Tickhill day tripping "pretty boys" rocked up in force! (Looked like, perhaps, we ought to be working the doors!). Badged up, kitted up, Rich and Adrian opted to travel as a pair and Tom (Bright blue T shirt) would be accompanying me.

To the business end: Got an excellent field placing and kicked off up the track, bang on 9.30am, well placed to get a good start ahead of most of the field. I still get a kick out of the photo opportunities and couldn`t resist a snap at this great view of Reeth and then, higher up the rocky path, further down Swaledale itself...

But I think I overcooked what was, for me, a fast start; barely able to catch my breath whilst bowling along the edge, no stopping now, and then down the steep, steep grass slope and tracks into Langthwaite. However, 55 mins later to checkpoint 1, and I`m ahead of a PB schedule - but not ahead of Tom who has just cruised past me on his first outing, over any terrain, greater than 12 miles!. The kid looks strong, I muttered to myself, and tried to hang onto his coat tails but to no avail so I dug in and ground out the miles along Arkengarthdale towards checkpoint 2 and a refill of water and a very welcome piece of chocolate. It made a pleasant change from warm gels and jelly babies which are my staple on these days.

Looking up, I could just make out the path snaking away up towards Great Punchard Head on the far horizon...

And along this winding track I was caught by Fred Clapham and Ray from Ripon. Fred and I have passed a few miles together before and enjoyed a catch up but Ray was keen to press on and they both gave me the slip prior to Checkpoint 3. I did, however, catch Tom who finally showed a human side by actually slowing down a little. Then, looking back from whence we came, a chance for another panorama of this trail...

Before the bog hopping began!.

This proved to be the toughest section for me as I went straight knee deep into a boggy section and was lucky to emerge with both shoes on. The constant search for footing and a decent line taxed me to the hilt but I managed to keep a plod going and navigated pretty well over and down and never was a Jam sandwich for me and a battenberg for Tom such a welcome sight at Level House. Climbing the lunar landscape up to the self check above Gunnerside Gill enabled a last swig from the warm bottles, a few more jelly babies and then, for me, what proved the best bit.

A beautiful track on the East Side of the Gill: Grassy, relatively flat and with good footing enabled my group to hammer along, down to Winterings then straight down through dry stone wall gaps and green fields to the stream and out into the sunlight of Gunnerside to applause from the Pub garden. Fantastic section! which was really good to run through and at this point, I was a full 5 minutes ahead of last years time. No time to dawdle, just get the tally pinched and we were straight back out of the village and the grassy climb up and back towards Reeth.

Looking back down to the head of Swaledale reminded me why this is such a great event - fantastic mix of testing terrain, both wet and dry, hard and soft, climbs and descents and long flat grass tracks and onto the contour to Blades. A steady jog through the self clip and down the road to the final manned checkpoint at Surrender Bridge saw quite a bunch of us - around 10 in all spread over perhaps 400 metres and the finish was near so we were all straight through on the final push.

The sharp down and up of that little ravine finally did for Tom and with us all pushing for the end, Skelgate Lane and the last self clip came and went in a blur, and not a moment too soon - this time the nettles had been cropped and so at least we could see the broken ground before being spilled out onto the lane with Reeth at our fingertips.

Always a great reception when landing back and today's was no exception. Great to see my Tickhill clubmate, Phil Robertshaw, this time as a spectator to the race in the Buck Hotel beer garden - true to his word raising a glass as I trotted by and round to the finish.

And, 4.25 again!, amazing but try as I might I just couldn't squeeze that PB out at any cost. I'd lost the 5 minute gain somewhere in the mix but can honestly say I gave it my all.

Even more amazing was Tom getting back in a time of 4.30! and for his first time out over 12 miles then what a seriously terrific effort: definitely the last time I'll be finishing ahead of him. Rich followed us 10 minutes later with a nagging looking knee injury that held him back and Adrian got caught out in the rain on his sub 5.30 time round. He was disappointed but for no valid reason: This was a tough day and he had recently, along with Rich, done a 3 Peaks of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Time to take a breather?. And, the Heavens had opened! and I've rarely seen such a downpour from what was a clear blue sky.

The remaining Tickhill contingent, who I sadly missed at the start this time, and who were out on the course caught the fearful brunt of the rain - great credit to all for getting back! It wasn't this bad last year ... honest.

Loved it again, a big thanks to the Swaledale Outdoor Club for organising a brilliant day for us all and ... a personal thanks to Christine at Tickhill for getting us all into the event - yet again - and, there's always next year for that PB!. (Yes, I did notice that you did beat your last years time ... yes you Mrs Karen Gregory!)

Full results are here


  1. A really very good write-up Mike with some excellent photos. So good I've had to pinch some of them for my personal use !

    Keep up the great reports !

  2. Cheers Jan,

    If you want bigger ones just email me as I cut `em down for the blog. You'd have had a top ten finish! I'm certain :-)

    1. Excellent review of what is a fantastic event - thanks. This year was my 5th event and just as enjoyable, as tough as it is. You did a great job to maintain your time - as your placing shows! Swaledale is the only event I enter so I'd be interested to know how you'd rate this event amongst others you do?
      best wishes.

    2. Hi Simon, Thanks for the comments. The Swaledale is one of my favourites as it has everything a good "off roader" should have without the steep, lung bursting climbing of a Fell Race. It's long enough to test endurance without being one of the all day slogs of an ultra, and all that entails both mentally and physically. As a "mid pack" ultra runner, I often end up with the exhaustive shuffle of a spent and broken man at the end, often propped up with Ibuprofen. The Swaledale enables me to keep a run /jog going pretty much to the end although the people who I aimed for still finished a good 10 - 15 minutes ahead of me. It leaves me feeling there's more to come and so hopefully I'll be back to test that theory. Oh and its well organised with a great meal at the end although I'm NEVER in a fit enough state to enjoy anything other than a glass of fruit juice followed by a cup of tea :-)