I had a day off work Monday 8th. The original plan had been to recce the Wheeldale Tandem, which is run this coming Sunday and I'm part of a team for this with a faster runner. I don't usually recce, but thought it polite so as not to keep my partner waiting too long at the meet up point of the two routes 20m in. Rules dictate that he can't start the last few miles until I arrive and we have to finish together. Its supposed to be a tricky one to navigate and takes in some inhospitable parts of the North York Moors.
But, the logistics of this seemed too tricky to do alone so I decided I'll bluff it round on the day. Plan B was a long run along the Wolds Way from Hessle where it starts along a long stretch to another town from where I could bus it back. But I layed in a bit long so figured on route that by time I got there I'd be taking buses in rush hour in smelly running clothes. Not appealing when its two buses and over a one hour journey (even without rush hour delays).
I was already on route when I ditched plan B and decided on plan C, follow the route mostly along Wolds Way as per B, but turn back after so many miles. As this was to be my longest VLSR before the Hardmoors this would be tough whatever I did, so covering the same ground twice shouldn't be a reason not to - mental discipline isn't my fortay. Also, on these country long runs there is always something new to see or something you haven't noticed before. An early highlight was geese flying in V formation low over the humber then turning inland just in front of me, nearly brushing the low trees, superb.
So I plodded onwards on mostly good trail ground with a thin mud coating, rarely horrifically deep or wet meaning I fell into a steady pace between 10-11min/mile. Not to say it isn't hilly though. There are several steady foot hills that are runnable as you venture a few miles from the riverbank into the edge of the wolds. These each rise and fall upto a few hundred feet at a time until you get to Elloughton Dale. Now temporarily off the Wolds way, here there is a steep drop and rise in the space of half a mile - fun in the winter mud - before a steady climb onto the top of the Wolds. Here follows another drop down into Brantingham Dale and terrain that will be familiar to Rudolph Romp-er's. I then followed the Wolds way along the dale road towards further hills and South Cave - run in the opposite direction at end of the Romp. To my surprise in the early miles it started to snow, in a few very weak showers. This refreshed the air but cooled my face enough for the hat to come out. In fact the hat and gloves were to come in and out quite a lot. I remember thinking at the end I probably had a hat, glove or both transition in every mile; I'd warm up in the valleys, cool into the North-easterly wind or on the hills, I'd also usually warm in tree cover - except if exposed to that wind.
In keeping with the geography so far there is soon another drop to the edge of South Cave. The winding road up to this farm also services about two other houses. It is tarmac these days but very much single track. I hadn't noticed before but suspect the highways agency may have adopted it or something. It now has give way markings and a proper street sign. I suspect it was discussed on a Friday morning as people were anxious to get out for a liquid lunch.
"What shall we call this road going up to a steep hill to Mt Airey farm in South Cave"
"Seconded, now who's getting the first round in??"
I now left the semi-comfort of well trodden trails near villages/towns. All there was from now until I - hopefully - came back this way in a couple of hours were farm houses and a few road crossings. Don't get me wrong, its not exactly wilderness, but its worth not forgetting on a long run if your energy stores deplete unexpectedly early or you suffer "digestive discomfort", your reduced to walking and the weather worsens - which would't take much as it was already cold enough for snow with an ice-cold breeze - you need an escape route! I was ever concious of this as this would be my longest unsupported run to date.
Onwards towards Swindale, another change in scenery, being a shallower sided grassy dale, and the start in a trend of long, steady undulations and climbs for the miles towards Market Weighton. Ironically my planned mileage will turn me back at the top of the last significant climb.
Back to Swindale, having quickly dropped a fair bit of height to around 200ft, I consider slowing down for my 3 hour food stop I see two runners coming towards me at hard pace. In front, driving on, a short, strong, determined runner who I think I recognise as one of the local "hard men" of running - supposedly he runs the 24.5m Rudolph's Romp route weekly in training. I didn't recognise the guy hanging 10 metres back, though he looked more to be "hanging on" than driving on. I said hello in passing but refrained from saying, "only 5m to go mate", figuring any attempts at encouragement - or sarcasm - may not be helpful. With them out of site I slowed to a walk for my 3 hour treat - my reward for progress.
The valley had been warm out of the wind, even the back of my hands had warmed up without gloves. But, I was soon climbing again and taking the bitter wind either face or side on. Up a few muddy paths between road sections and I hit another marked trig point at about 500ft A few hundred yards later I decided it was time to head back. Though I knew I'd been running a fair old time, it didn't feel like it in my legs, but I had in fact run just over 18 miles. I turned around for what turned out to be a good few miles of downhill, flat or very steady climbs, taking me up to the mid-twenties. The journey back through Swindale, East Dale and Drewton Woods right to Weedley Dale was all runnable and overall downhill. I made a very slight variation before the climb out of Swindale, not cutting the corner as when I dropped in, instead running right to the end for a shorter climb out. This is the true route of the Wolds Way but Rompers cut the corner. I think I may know why....
..... Mole hills everywhere..... hundreds..... Ohh my god!!.... had I strayed into the Valley of the Death Moles?! Or is just my imagination giving me a temporary distraction? Either way I wouldn't come down here at night.
The descent back into East Dale was hazardously muddy and steep as always. At least the mud may have offered my quads some protection. I made good progress through the woods, again warming up for some time protected by nature from the elements. As I ran parallel to the old railway track route back up Weedley Dale - Hull-Barnsley line my father believes (though it seems an odd direction) - the first of the many bigger climbs on the return swallows me in its cold shadow. In fact the next few miles contain a succession of walk uphill and painfully quick, run downhill sections. Hard enough on the way out, on the way back this starts to really exact its punishment. Though, frequent "system checks" verify these are good pains - hard-work endured achey and stiff legs, swollen feet - not the bad pains - potential or actual injuries. You have to differentiate the two or your minds over-active safety mecahanism defeats your body. I've learned the longer you run the more you need to conquer the "demons" in your own mind. Of course training helps to make the miles pass easier, but your mind also needs to cope with hardships both real and products of imagination. I hope I can be strong enough to cope with some of the long day, and night, runs I plan this year.
Miles pass without distraction from man or beast, my 4.5hr food stop has been and gone climbing Coomber Dale and I now know my plan is working as I have food for the one last stop that I will need. I'm not fearing the final few miles or counting down, this is good, though definately getting harder. I keep walking up, running flat or down and my pace holds fairly steady, just slowing a bit towards the end. After my last food stop I get a boost running through the plantation down to Ferriby. Is this a sign of things to come or just a temporary boost from the food and the nice steady downward angle of the hill. As with many runs its not the hills I fear now. When I leave Ferriby for the final stretch along the foreshore to Hessle I know its near another 3m - 2 of which are flat and will see me taunted by the monolithic Humber Bridge, which only grows right at the last minute.
I stop and walk on the flat a bit whilst I sup a bit of energy drink - I'm a bit narked that i have loads left so could have been taking more energy on. Not that it matters, I'm here afterall. My flat pace is now the same as my overall pace. Which is as good as I could have hoped for. No horrific burnout on a remote hill - not today. I pass under the humber bridge, its like a magnificent finishing gantry, a short hill from home now. I get to my front door, stopping the clock on 6hrs and 55mins, a distance of 36.9m, the ascent and descent is in the region of 4800ft, which is quite a lot in an area with no monster hills to speak of. Its a definate confidence booster, this was the condition I set myself on the way towards Hardmoors, if I can do 66% distance ok, I can grind out the rest.
In the closing miles I promised myself a burger and chips as reward. This turns out to be a disappointment, guess I've used up my quota of good fortune already today.