This was my second Wharfedale off-road marathon (WORM) and a whole different set of conditions awaited me from the first. That day had been a bit dull, wet and windy, Saturday 5th June 2010 wasn't! I only entered about a week before, wanting to set a short term goal as my next scheduled "event" is not until the Osmotherley Phoenix in early July. I'd been getting all kinds of trouble with my right knee since the Fellsman, sometimes the outside, sometimes in, whatever the issue I think the maltracking of the kneecap doesn't help.... something about inner and outer quad imbalance.
I'd been out doing a charity bowling thing the night before so I awoke at 6:45 having done no packing. So followed downloading of course and CP to garmin, map and route print-offs, make a sandwich and buttering malt-loaf for food, mixing energy and recovery drinks, packing bag with after-clothes and food, prepping backpack with required kit, applying the "once" sun lotion, taping back of feet and nipples (this isn't a kinky thing) and the old SSS - minus the shave, and breakfast (gasp!). So I was eventually on the road just before 8:30. This meant for an uncomfortably fast drive along the M62 and M606 to get to Bradford - barring the annoying, neverending average speed 50 zones. Then a frustrating drive through Bradford, Shipley, Bingley, Timbuktu?.... I don't know... all the towns just seem to merge into Bradford and Leeds around there. The later start than my familiar LDWA challenges and suchlike meant I was late enough to find some traffic. Worse still on the roads to Skipton and Grassington I was often doing 20 miles per hour behind caravaners. "Come back 8 and 9am start events.... all is forgiven!!!"
Still, somehow I got through these mini-trials to arrive at 10 in Threshfield - a new PB for this now familiar journey! The winding road from Skipton gave me my first glimpses of the weather to the north in the hills of Wharfedale. Unlike the rest of the journey not all out sun, but more of a heat haze - a sweaty one was on the cards and the temperature was rising. I registered, got my number and natty "dibber" card to hang around my neck. These are a much better solution to the old plastic dibbers on a flimsy tyvex strip around the wrist.
[moan] Part of the prep that made me late was packing up a waist pack with kit and then repacking as I couldn't get the required map in. So I was at the start line with heavier luggage but carrying the map as per the rules. I'm sure many weren't and there hadn't been a kit check to pick this up. It was a hot day but I carried fully windproofs, compass, map, emergency food, as per the rules. They never made an announcement stating this ruling had been relaxed so I think somewhat the off-road spirit of the event wasn't being adhered to by some. Had it been a horrid day I bet most would be carrying waterproofs. In the Hardmoors 55 they enforced the required kit rule, but still some without the right kit were caught out by near day long horrible weather and had to withdraw This has to be all or nothing on the kit checks, even in summer the worst should be considered![/moan]
On the other hand I can't complain too much about the bag as it allowed me to carry over 1l of electrolyte drink and a few other non-essentials as I don't want to make this too easy - the required kit at UTLD will, I'm sure, be a good deal heavier. Anyway set off with my "heavy" bag soon crossing the river and joining good, midly unduylating grass tracks up Wharfedale. I'd set myself the target of 4 hours if I could so I never got into a truly relaxed breathing pattern and I was sweating buckets in no time. I played the usual game of swapping positions with others around me up until CP1. From CP1 to CP2 in Kettlewell was more undulating but equally scenic as the high banks of Wharfedale seperated in two across the river at the convergence of Littondale and Upper Wharfedale.
There was a short fast descent before arriving at Kettlewell via dozens of gates, stiles, stiles-with-gates, etc. A work out for the arms as well as the legs. I breezed through Kettlewell with just a brief water and dib stop, eager to tackle the first proper ascent of the day climbing the daleside to go over the top and into Littondale. Going by the book of efficiency I pulled out the first snack of the day - malt loaf - to graze on whilst walking uphill. So I may have arrived at the top 30sec-to-a-minute after others initially around me, but I'd be reenergised for the descent and subsequent miles.
This worked well enough as I bombed down the hill towards Hawkswick and the next CP I passed several others. However, my early miles exuberence at 9-min/mile pace caught up with me on the dale-bottom run to Arncliffe as I found myself struggling to hold field position. Past Arncliffe CP it was the secondlong walk uphill so I again took a time out to unpack a sandwich and scoff uphill. At this point the sun was strong and the lack of wind resistance meant a nasty mix of sweat and sun lotion poured into my eyes - it was good to get moving again into a slight breeze following the "Monks Road" over towards Malham Tarn.
That little pause for breath lost me at least another half dozen poistions and I did find it hardhere to get going again initially. The Monks Road is less a road and more a rolling grass, stone and rock path over a hill which eventually we left near to Malham Tarn. I stuck to my guns, not really dropping to a walk unless the uphill demanded, plodding along over the roughest ground of the route so far. Not that this was that rough compared to some of the going of the Fellsman. nevertheless one of those tough sections that I'll discipline myself to run as its not significantly difficult enough to go allow backing off - especially as few else were. I still apreciated the great view from Yew Cogar Scar to nab End. This course is certainly not without the odd breathtaking view of steep-sided valley, despite mostly modest undulations on route. I picked off a few more people along the route to the Tarn, especially near the end after a descent there was a half mile steady rise that I found some energy for a good charge up. Then it was a fun drop down a grassy bank to the tarn CP and much appreciated water!
Away from the Tarn we head gravelly roads for a short while so I once again saw no excuse not to make good of the good ground. The F-Lites almost flat studs probably ideal for such ground, whereas a roclite may have been slightly harder work. Then it was Mastilles lane time - a slight upgrade in in the rockiness of the track from smooth gravel. But needless to say not difficult and I tried to pick at those in front of me again, working more like a road runner than a hill runner on the mostly gentle undulations. I made good progress moving up on those I'd lost back at the start of the Monks Road. Turning off here at a water point I stopped to walk a moment and eat a cereal bar.
A passing old lady walker started to engage me in a conversation "Whats the event...", etc. Half wanting to resume my good progress but not wanting to be rude I went on to mention it was an off-road marathon. She then said "Sorry I thought you were a walker" (well had been for the last minute or two I suppose), I said no problem, and was off again. Beyond the next CP, I was very much in the competitive mindset now and was slightly aggravated when in a moment of navigational un-sureness a passing cyclist said something along the lines of "Are you lost mate, saw loads of runners miles over that way" pointing in a direction I wasn't expectinbg to travel. I turned back briefly looking for another pathy out of the farm, but a runner I'd just passed pointed me right and the cyclist apologised saying he hadn't seen the runners in front turn off just beyond the farm wall (which I had missed too). I said it was ok, but requested I borrowed his bike. Out of luck again, he'd already been offered £1000 for it from another competitor - can't match that.
I pushed on, over rolling hills and eventually onto moorland which would lead me back to Wharfedale RUFC. I must have been more tired than I realised, struggling to find the penultimate self clip CP and then not seeing the last at all and presuming it wasn't there. This means I don't appear in the official finishing places in the results, but what do I care I know I did the route right and I know the time I achieved. Coming off the moor I tried to run away from a strong and lean-looking runner I'd passed just after Malham Tarn who had caught up with me again. Quite a plus for me that nobody else seemed to have managed this. Off the moor I kept the distance with a strong descent. But this left me with the seemingly unending final mile and a bit on flat ground; roads and paths. I kept my place, not by much and my foe and I both achieved that hard-earned sub-4.
It was now that we had the best weather of the day so I was glad to be drinking guiness and chatting to other runners sitting on the rugby field rather than still running. Better still, there was virtually no knee-pain, just the occasional "remnant" of the past months aches and on a trail course at hard effort this is a VERY good thing. Roll on the upcoming Lakeland 100 recces and Osmotherley Phoenix.