More black!

A while back, Drew and I pencilled in a date for a run, probably on the Pennine Way. I must admit that I pretty much forgot about this till around a week before when Drew rang me to see if I was still in. The week before, I’d gone to the Secret Garden Party festival which I also didn’t think I was going to till 5 days before when some friends who had tickets couldn’t go. I had a good old time but hardly ideal prep for a big day in the hills.

I think this year so far has been my strongest running year yet, which is quite interesting as it has largely been made up of big runs followed by entire weeks off! Not a lot of structured (Not that my training is that structured) weeks of training. I can’t help but feel reassured by the fact that tonnes of rest peppered with many big runs seems to really be working for me. I have been running much more for fun this year, and I suppose this is shining through with my results!

When I got the call from Drew just before the festival, I didn’t feel to great with my fitness. I had had quiet a few very slow weeks preceding this after recovering from the Cotswold Way run and with the festival that weekend I wasn’t going to be getting to much running in for yet another week. Experience told me that it takes a fair bit more time to lose a real noticeable amount of performance though (unless you’re right at your peak). It’s more about attitude. So it was good to be planning another big one, which would whip me back into shape before the North Downs Way 100 a couple weeks later.

The Pennine Way just happens to be another Trailblaze course so I would be able to get myself on another results board. The whole of the Pennine Way is over 260 miles (which I’d love to do one day!), but is split into North and South. The southern section is around 88 miles which is the Trailblaze course. It begins in Edale and ends in Horton in Ribblesdale. The first black band point is at Gargrave at around 67 miles so this was instantly my earliest drop out point. I love the way the Trailblaze concept has made me think like this. It really makes me push that little bit harder.

After a bit of discussion, Drew and I decided that he would drive up before me and hide some bags of food and more importantly, water at a few points along the route as supplies would be hard to come by otherwise, therefore saving the pain of carrying really heavy packs. He would then park the car at Gargrave which is where he planned to run to before catching the train back to Edale where he would meet me as I arrived. My train would arrive at Edale at just past 2100. The station is a short distance from the start of the course.

My journey went without any hitches but Drew missed his train back to Edale so had to drive it and leave his car there. We made the start of the trail at 2100 just as the night was setting in which was perfect. We would get up into the hills before it was pitch black. Drew had earlier in the year ran most of what we planned to run over a few days which as I would learn would be pretty handy.

I pushed my tag into the first point at around 2130 and we slowly pushed on up the first long stretch up onto higher ground and into the ever increasing darkness. We hadn’t mounted our head torches yet. I like to leave it as long as possible and let my eyes adapt to the darkness. After about 2 or 3 km, I stumbled, almost controlled it, but didn’t and ended up falling onto my spread out hands which effectively saved the rest of me from injury but my right hand got a pretty decent gravel rash on the palm. It wasn’t painful, just more annoying. In a short while we reached the top of the initial large climb where we stopped and got the torches out. As we started off again, the path became very difficult to follow as we were on open moorland. Fortunately Drew’s previous experience helped us out a fair bit even though it was pitch black.

We then lost the trail! The open moorland was now covered in many large dips which gave the impression of many possible paths which became more and more confusing. We backtracked till we got back to the path we were on, then weren’t sure whether this was even a path itself. We eventually followed a bearing as best as possible hoping that we would eventually hit the path again which thankfully we did. All in all we guessed this to be a loss of around an hour of walking round in circles getting chilly. Not ideal but just part of the night running thing. What probably seems simple with good visibility gets very difficult with very little.

The trail now was made up of impressive large slabs of rock which had been laid not too many years ago and not only provided some good footing and some faster running, but also provided confidence that you were on the correct trail!

It was a beautiful night. If you stopped for a second and gazed up, you would see a star studded sky. Unfortunately there was a lot of light pollution due to the close proximity of Manchester. It was quite strange to think of all the madness that would be currently be going on in the city whilst being in almost total silence and darkness. Within 15 minutes of getting back on track my hands were warming up again. I was happy that we were back on track and making good progress again.

I was feeling pretty good which was good for my confidence, seeing as I didn’t think my prep had been to great. We crossed a road and began another steady climb. We nearly passed a control point without dibbing it. Drew informed me that there was another potentially tricky bit of night navigation coming up. We were both feeling pretty sharp still so hopefully we wouldn’t lose the trail again! Sure enough the trail did become more difficult to follow, but we stayed focused and managed to get through with no problems. This was all great for the next time that I’d come up and hopefully take on the whole thing. A good knowledge of the course is invaluable, even a way marked route which can be easy to lose especially at night! Soon we reached the top of a large hill. We were again on a stone paved section, and the light was beginning to enable me to occasionally turn my torch off, so I could see the trail snake out before me for a long descent ahead. As I strode out to take advantage of the long downhill I realised that I could actually remove the torch completely. It’s always a happy time when I get to remove the torch, signifying the beginning of the new day and the end of the night. This is always a little invigorating for obvious reasons, but also due to not having to focus so much on the trail and your footing. We soon reached the second of Drew’s very welcome stash’s. I ate a tonne of flapjack, a protein bar and downed a bottle of Lucozade. I was feeling a little weary, but overall I was being pleasantly surprised by how good I felt. All pretty encouraging for the NDW100 two weeks later. The morning wasn’t as pretty as I thought it may be due to a large cloud covering the sun. It was still pretty fresh as we moved on from the stash point. Slowly the cloud faded and the sun begun to work which at first was really nice, but it soon became obvious that this would end up being a draining force. This is when the water would be most important! Our progress was good and I was really enjoying our day in the hills. The scenery was inspiring, and really helps to keep you motivated. Drew informed me that we would soon be approaching his final stash point. So far these had been an amazing lift. Something to look forward to. When we stopped, and Drew kicked around in some weeds at the side of a trail, it didn’t take long to realise that the stash had gone. Someone had discovered it and taken it. This was pretty negative as the sun was really beating down on us now! We looked at the map and worked out possible water pickup points ahead (houses, campsites etc.). We both had a fair bit of water, but not loads. There was a campsite not too far away which could help, but it was largely uphill. This took quite a while to get too as it was really steep, forcing us to walk, and the heat was really quite intense. Finally we saw a sign to farm shop a couple of hundred metres off from the trail. We followed this with our fingers crossed for it to be open. As we approached, we saw that this was in fact the shop to the campsite we saw on the map, and that it was in fact open. We bought a couple large bottles of water. I also got a pint of milk, and a pie. We both wolfed it down and drank lots of the water. It was really nice just sat in the lovely sun. there was barely a breeze. Drew at this point decided that he was going to make his way to the nearest station and find his way back to the car. I would carry on, and Drew would drive up and hopefully meet me somewhere on course. Drew was soon to be taking part in the Leadville 100 in the US which demands respect so I respected his decision and put my pack back on my back and pushed on.

I had a short climb over the brow of a hill before a glorious landscape opened up before me. I could make out the path for a long way, and it looked very inviting. I felt much happier now that I had a couple of litres of water in my pack and was well hydrated. My gps said that I had covered 75km. The first Trailblaze blackband point was at Gargrave which was at 108km. The thing is that due to getting pretty lost near the start, I knew that we had added a fair amount to our total. How much I wasn’t sure. Never mind, as long as I knew about it, it wouldn’t catch me out later.

The sun was truly blazing on me now. For around 20 minutes I had the distraction of watching a helicopter picking up a load of what I believe was lime, flying off over the horizon and returning, then repeating the process till the hills blocked out the deafening noise and the sight. I dropped into a vividly green gorge crossed over a couple wooden footbridges and started a long descent out. I was sweating profusely, but still had plenty of fluids that should keep me going for a while longer.

I had planned to meet Drew at Cowling. Of course neither of us had any way of knowing when we’d arrive so if I got there before him I’d give him a ring to let him know, and he would redirect towards the next suitable point. I seemed to be making pretty good ground and guessed that combined with the heavy traffic due to good weather, I might beat Drew to Cowling. On arriving at the road crossing I was proven right. I was about 1km up the road from the actual village and decided that it would be worth the 2km extra running to find a shop to get something cold. I still had a fair bit of water on my back but it was so warm from the sun and my body heat that I really desired something icy cold. I found a little shop and bought a freezing cold Lucozade which was downed in seconds, and a Magnum ice cream! I ran off up the road while eating the Magnum. Hardly great sports nutrition, but it certainly seemed to hit the spot!

Once I’d finished the Magnum, I got my phone out and rang Drew. We planned to meet at Thornton in Craven. The next little village I’d hit. The going was beginning to get pretty tough now. I was starting to tire. I’d been running around 15-16 hours by this stage and had lost a nights sleep so everything was really getting to be quite laborious. I was at the stage where if I didn’t keep my focus, which was becoming increasingly more difficult, I’d find myself walking. Once I snapped out of this, I’d tell myself off before slowly starting running again. This is where my weakness is I think. I lose lots of time doing this. It’s all about willpower and focus. Practice makes perfect!

I soon arrived in Thornton in Craven, and rang Drew to discover that I’d beaten him again! He said to just keep going, so I did. The scenery was just beautiful, and soon it was idyllic as I approached the Leeds and Liverpool canal. It was, as is usually the case with canals, perfectly peaceful, and within a couple minutes I saw someone running towards me. It was Drew with some bags of goodies for me. What a welcome surprise that was. We moved into the shelter of a bridge and I sat into some cool long grass. I then stuffed myself. I ate an éclair, a pasty, a pack of sandwiches and washed down with about a litre of water. I only had about 4-5km to Gargrave, so hauled my self up and bounded off with an overly full stomach. I suppose I had been hungrier than I thought! The last stretch was pretty flat, and sooner than expected I’d arrived into Gargrave where again Drew appeared up ahead. He ran with me to the check point and I dibbed in for my fourth black band. Drew asked if I was going to carry on and I told him I was feeling pretty good for the distance but I was done for the day. It had been a good recce for when I do the whole thing. My gps recorded the distance as 118km in 20.5hrs. Not a bad days work!

We then made our way down to the river bank and I dipped my bare feet in which was incredible, and washed all the sweat and mud off of me. It was around 1900 now and we had nowhere to sleep. We decided to drive over to the Lakes to watch and cheer on some of the runners competing in the Lakeland 100. We eventually arrived at Ambleside, parked up and stood outside the Lakes Runner shop and cheered through some runners. We then bought a Chinese takeaway and sat outside again watching them coming through. Once we were done there we made our way to Coniston which is the HQ for the race so we could watch some people finishing. I bought a cup of tea, then a cup of coffee and just sat in a daze. Eventually Drew came up to me and said that he needed a hotel room! Phew! I too couldn’t help fantasizing about a nice comfy bed! The closest room he could find at this late hour (2330) was in the centre of Preston! Finally after a mega long day, I crawled, happily into bed at 0100 and instantly passed out.

I really enjoyed this adventure. Running all through the night, on new trails, in stunning scenery, even the getting lost! Plus the fact that physically, I felt pretty good. Indeed better than I thought. Now I just had two weeks to recover and keep things up before the North Downs Way 100. Then my entire focus will be the Spartathlon.
I apologise for my blogs getting seemingly longer and longer. Then again if you get this far you can’t be all that bothered I suppose.

Happy running, and enjoy those trails.

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