Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Swaledale Marathon - 8th June 2013

Richard Elliott and I discussed last years event as we milled around in the field prior to the bell being rung for the off on this, another potentially cloudless, blue, Swaledale morning. We spoke of a good deal more as well: About preparation, training, the benefit of cycling and other disciplines being thrown into the mix and of long runs and the isolation of training long and alone which, I discovered, is common to us both. What would prove to be uncommon to this tickhill pairing was the level of improvement one of us would exhibit today.

A transformed man stood before me with a glint of aspiration and steel that confirmed his sub 4 hour finish target was well within reach. He'd put in the effort, lost a lot of weight and was ready to go - all I could offer was for him to aim for the Gunnerside checkpoint in 2.30 ish and he`d be fine.

At 9.30am, the bell duly tolled and as we climbed the stoney path upwards towards Fremington Edge, Richard left me in the midst of the mid packers and I knew I wouldn't see him again today. He got to Gunnerside within the time we discussed, and made a 3.46 - and a 30th place finish - knocking an hour of his time last year. Enough said: A job very well done.

It's Important that I get that bit in first. This is a race, and credit must be paid where it's due. It must also be paid to the rest of my Tickhill club colleagues who got round a gruelling course and some not without incident but all picked up mugs and certificates to remind them of this day. The first time around this beautiful course, for certain Tickhill Ladies and Gentlemen; - now, how many will return? It can take a few days of post-race recovery to put all the effort into perspective. This is a wild course in wild country and it does take a lot out of every participant - no road run this, and when the sun pours out of a big sky and the bogs beyond Punchard pull ya down then its not for the faint heart: Self determination and drive comes to the fore and its a battle, mostly with yourself, as to how the day will out. Get the hydration wrong, the fuelling wrong and a bit of indifferent navigation and it`s a long, long time and a long way back to Reeth.

I always bring along a camera - taking every opportunity to stand and stare - but also to try and capture the views which, on this course remain stunning all day. From the climb up to the edge, looking over Reeth ....

along the edge and then over the crest and down towards Langthwaite ...

and that was before we saw a new, rare breed of long necked Arkengarthdale Sheep watching proceedings down in the valley bottom prior to the turn right, over the Tan Hill road and into the wilderness.

However, back between checkpoint 1 and 2, I spent a pleasant recovery period catching up with my old friend Fred Clapham of Ripon Road Runners. A veteran of this event, and with a couple of sub 4 hour finishes in the bag, he was awaiting an MRI scan on an injured hip and consequently was measuring a steady approach to todays run. As I have to jog to keep up with his walk then I hoped to keep him in sight. A forlorn hope and he soon gave me the slip for an hour or so when the climbs returned. Only then did I join up with Gerry Orchard - of Osmotherley Phoenix fame - on the rocky by-way up to Punchard Head and we covered all topics related to Northern off road running - especially related to events and other challenges faced across the Vale of York on the North Yorkshire Moors but those tales are for another day ... perhaps ...

Finally through the Punchard Head clip and a breather ...

... of sorts before I, foolishly, played "follow my leader" down, following the heels of the runner in front, with a chest heaving with effort, ever down and off the best line and into a world of trouble and effort.

Floundering around in a boggy section whilst looking upwards towards runners on the skyline, correctly  heading away into the distance does nothing for self confidence and it was a shattering period for me to get back to where I should have been. A bit of recrimination followed within the pack: "What are you all doing down there?" "Following him!" that sort of heated debate, but peace soon returned and we headed back up to rejoin the route.

No place to have to put all that toil into the event and I suffered dreadfully to get towards Friarfold in any sort of order - it was a shambles and I kicked my heels along the way, stumbling with fatigue on the uneven ground before the hard rakes finally gave a firm footing and a chance to regain a little composure - and time.

Having wolfed a pair of Jam sandwiches on the hoof with all the dignity of a starving man, and thanked once again the marshalls and support crews at Level House for their attentions, we were away again up the track towards the Gill of Gunnerside and the start of the turn home.

These Old Gang Mine working spoils are the remanants of both open cut and hushing mineral extractions of centuries passed. Where vertical veins of ores were scrubbed off or washed off the surface exposures prior to the removal down into the dale bottoms. That history too is for another post: Today, the rakes give another firm footpath prior to the green sweeping track down into Gunnerside and a chance for a downhill section prior to the return to civilisation ...

... and, following on from the bleached, white-out stones of the rake, one of the most beautiful green tracks in North Yorkshire.

A "downhill section" didn't do that justice and, briefly, I stood to take it all in. Huge swells of green moorland dipped into steep, broken grounded ravines and gills, watched over by a fleet of white clouds, sailing serenely across an enormous cobalt blue sky like an armada of white galleons, themselves casting dark green shadows on the valley walls as they were swept along in the warm breeze. Curlews swooped and cried off into the distance, a pair of lapwings tilted and dived ... this is a stunning landscape. I was in awe. 

I was also losing time and so I cracked on, southwards diagonally along the eastern side of the Gill to Winterings and downwards through fields, following the little silver green trail made by the earlier quicker runners, towards Gunnerside and the river bottom where we would be rewarded by the first bit of dappled shade of the day and a welcome committee of curious onlookers and supporters in the village.

I only measure my performance on this race by the time I click the latch through the gate onto the stones at the side of the river bed. With 3 hours 13 minutes gone then so was any chance of a best time and I could now enjoy the remainder of the round with the pressure off.

The Tickhill mob had an unofficial supporter in Karen Gregory who I discovered by the checkpoint and was full of encouragement for us all: A great help to see that smiling face and a positive send off onto the last section; that tiring climb out of Gunnerside, up and eastwards back onto the northern wall of the Dale.

I glanced over my shoulder at this point and was rewarded, as always, by a great shot of the western end of the Dale; with Great Shunner Fell looming large on the far horizon - the picture that many have capured before, and hopefully I will again, before the final turn eastwards and the finish.

I did manage a jog of sorts along the grass fields before the stone lane to Blades where once again I happened across Fred at the self clip and from here, with Reeth Low Moor looming large ahead, we decided to walk back to the finish - providing we were to complete in under 5 hours!

Arriving at Surrender Bridge where, due to the glorious day, the area was packed with day trippers and supporters, I`ve never heard such applause for my arrival into a checkpoint - until I heard the cheers of "Come on Mum" and turned to see a host of ladies, some wearing Swaledale Outdoor Club vests, cantering down the road! ... I'll get my coat then.

Finally, over the last rise of green track, and with a glimpse back, we found ourselves on the last section.

and then the fun started.

I invited Fred to consider that when we're bound to a rocking chair in our dotage, then a 4.59 finish will look much better than a 5.01. The old competitive instincts returned and we legged it forward with a new found enthusiasm for this new goal, so late in the day.

Passing around half a dozen other competitors, we approached Skelgate Lane for the last self clip ...

... and "flew" along this last ankle breaking lane home. I must apologise here for rudely barging my way passed a couple of "slower" completers!. It was a purely personal scamper against the clock, and, after spilling out onto the lane and the left turn back down into Reeth and round The Buck by the village green, I finally stopped the clock at 4.56.

"Regrets, I've had a few ... and then again, too few to mention" ... Seriously, yet another fantastic event hosted by the Swaledale Outdoor Club. A blue riband event in the calendar for me and I know the Tickhill contingent value it highly. How did I feel with a personal worst? indifferent actually. All four of my completions have been sub 5 hours with a couple of 4.25 times lobbed in and so with my aversion to intense training I'll take that. Next year? Richard gave a glimpse of what can be achieved if the time and effort is put in. Let's see. Next year, if I'm in, I'll be in the Veteran 50 class ... and then the fun really does start.

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