The recce had been done, the maps printed, and the notes diligently made, all laminated and weather-proofed. For belt and braces, the route had been uploaded to my fancy fluorescent GPS watch which promised to beep as I reached the waymarks, or send a small but hair-curling electric shock if I went off course. What could possibly go wrong?
We were leg five of the Calderdale Way Relay, a 50 plus-mile-relay run in teams of 12 over six legs, two runners per leg. The idea, as with all relays, is to pass the baton to the next team, then return to the clubhouse for a pint and a pie. I can reveal that we did return to the clubhouse for a pint and a pie, even if they’d run out of pie.
You know it’s a serious race when your kit is inspected before you start. It’s a fell race, so there’s no markers, no marshals, no water stops (unless you count the streams and puddles), no medals and no technical tee-shirts. All competitors have to abide by Fell Runner Association rules, which means carrying top to toe waterproof clothes, a whistle, hat, gloves, map and compass, as well as food, drink and a short-wave radio. OK, so I made the radio thing up, but it’s not a laughing matter. People die on the fells, even in May, hypothermia is a killer, and no respecter of how good a runner you are.
It means running with a pack and, of course, knowing where you’re going, working from cryptic instructions which mix metric and imperial, thank goodness we weren’t wanting to land on Mars. I thought I had two out of two, and that was pretty much the case until the end was nearly in sight.
We were on leg five and hadn’t been handed the baton by the previous pair, who were still some distance away, so along with the dozens of others also without a baton, we were part of a mass start. We worked our way to the back of the pack, always a challenge, but one I’m good at. My longsuffering partner Steve offered to carry me, but I pointed out that would be cheating, plus he’d give himself a hernia.
The terrain ranged from moorland to fields, though woodland and farmland, with steep hills, a road and an industrial estate thrown in. I’d run it once, so was even able to help a couple of pairs who were off course, which put us in the heady position of third from the last.
I kept expecting my watch to bark out instructions, or electrocute me for veering off the unbeaten track, but after remembering to turn it on, six miles in, I realised the route wasn’t actually uploaded. I’d have to resort to the map and compass, we were doomed.
We shook off one of the pairs, leaving them in our wake, it felt good, and stuck with a pair of ladies who were very good company, but not very good navigators. I knew we should be heading east, but we were going west. Thank goodness for Strava, which helped us back to the route, though we did add a good kilometre or so. And we regained our last place, even causing a slight panic as the organisers phoned to check where we were. But we arrived and we were safe and we could go to the clubhouse and have pie and beer.
Fortunately the rest of the team fared rather better so we weren’t last overall. Which is nice.