Losty McLostface #3


Thanks to Dave Woodhead for the photo


There were definitely no footprints other than those left by sheep. And poo, the sheep had left that too. The few dozen runners racing ahead had either gone another way or floated above the sticky mud. Clearly someone was lost, I strongly suspected that someone was me.

Fortunately, I was bringing up the rear true to form, embarrassingly sporting the number one on my vest, I should have married Mr Zephyr and changed my first name to Zondra. A few hundred metres behind me was the final runner, plus the sweeper. Thank goodness, I thought, we can’t possibly go wrong with the sweeper, if all else failed, he could even carry me, at a pinch.

“Are we going the right way?” I called to the sweeper, the wind whipping my words.

“Oooo,” he pondered, looking at the featureless moorland around us, “I don’t know”, said the sweeper, let’s call him Ron, short for Wrong. So it was official, we were lost up on Ilkley Moor and only one of us had a hat. Catching a death of cold was in the offing.

We were just 2km into the 11km Rombolds Romp multiple choice race. You could do the trails, fells, or just get lost, the third was a destiny rather than a choice. The difference between trails and fells is the accessibility of the route. Trails are supposed to be easier to run on, almost kissing your feet, while fells are more technical and tricky. We’d set off on the trail but were now definitely on the fells, if not the wilderness. There were no markings, no stripey tape and no marshals in sight.

Fortunately I have an inbuilt compass and keen sense of direction, neither function, but it’s good to know they are there. The race briefing described a newly-demolished forest which I could see in the distance, beyond the heather, tussocks, bogs, shooting butts and something that looked like the Slough of Despond. I suggested we made a bee-line for that, as it was a certain landmark, but I was over-ruled. Ron, whose route-finding skills wouldn’t have got him his Scouts’ map-reading badge said we should head for the wall over to the right. It’s not a good idea to be alone on Ilkley Moor wearing nothing more than a tee-shirt and shorts, even if I did have a hat, so the three of us slowly made our way towards the wall. A marshal appeared and looked a little surprised to see we’d taken the scenic route.

I have to confess to being somewhat grumpy at this stage, I can get lost for free, I don’t need to pay for it, even if I do get a bottle of beer at the end. So back on course I put as much distance as I could between me and Ron to prevent the exchange of a few choice words. There was light relief when I hit a very steep stretch of road where the laconic Dave ‘Woodentops’ Woodhead was lying in wait with his camera. ‘Oh it’s you!’ I exclaimed, genuinely happy to see him. ”Tha’d better look as if tha’s running for t’photo’ he said, so I did. Dave and his wife Eileen give so much to the Yorkshire fell-running community and will be crowned monarchs of our fair county come the revolution of devolution.

Noel, who had done the fell race, or rather someone who looked like him, but painted shades of black and brown, greeted me at the end. It turns out he’d fallen full-length four times, probably showing off as usual.

The last runner and Ron followed some time later. I think Ron was presented with a framed map of the route and told never to tail run ever again.

Losty McLostface #2

Safe and glad to see Dave Woodhead. Thanks for the photo, Dave!

I was doing the usual working my way to the back of the pack as we climbed on to the featureless, soggy, sticky, slippery Haworth moorland. I do love fell running, but I’m not fast, so am always very careful to check out the route beforehand, to avoid any navigational hitches or embarrassing calls to the rescue services.

Noel and my friend Maika has disappeared into the distance, I didn’t expect to see either of them until I hobbled up the cobbles of Haworth main street to the finish line. As it turned out, I was wrong.

As well as being featureless, the moors can be hostile, cold and bleak, no wonder the Brontes weren’t Misses Chuckletrousers with such a draught blowing around the houses. But I was confident, the Bronte Way was point-to-point, the bus had dropped us at the start and all we had to do was find our way back, eight and a bit miles, or 12ish kilometres in new money.

I was finding it tough going, the ground was spitting smelly mud at me and the rocks were conspiring to bang me on the ankle. I was having a bit of a pity party to be honest, I didn’t seem to be making progress and it took ages to do less than a parkrun. As I struggled up a steep hill, fighting the heather and bracken, my phone rang. That was all I needed, it must be a PPI call in the middle of the moors, who else could it be? And on a Sunday too, I wasn’t going to answer it, I mean, shouldn’t they be bothering someone else? Anyway, I didn’t have the strength to get the damned thing out of my pack, the message pinged and decided to check at the top of the hill, just in case it wasn’t PPI.

Then I heard my name, carried on the wind…’Anne, Anne…’. OK, I was definitely hallucinating, it was the fumes from the bogs. ‘Anne, ANNNNE!!!!’ wow, they were some fumes. But as I glanced down, I saw Maika emerging from the heather at the bottom of the slope. At first I thought she’d been trying out a high-speed roly-poly down the hill  to add to her fell-running adventure, she’s Japanese and always up for a challenge. Then I was worried she’d taken a tumble.  Either way, she was way off course, but uninjured and obviously very pleased to see me.

As she made her way up the steep slope, almost crying with relief, she told how she’d taken a wrong turn. On the plus side, she’d taken some amazing photos that no-one else on the run had seen. On the minus side, she was well and truly lost, not helped by asking directions from a brusque Yorkshire farmer who had told her ‘Get thissen up t’fell sithee yonder, tha knows’. Despite extensive tuition in advanced Yorkshireness, she had no idea what he meant, but his upward-pointing finger sent her towards the sky. Fortunately, I happened to be passing.

It was Maika who had phoned me, she had panicked when she got lost. I assured her we had no coyotes, wolves or bears on the Yorkshire Moors, though the grouse could get a bit grumpy. Her loss, or getting lost, was definitely my gain, I had company and soon discovered that my slower-than-usual progress wasn’t as bad as I thought as my watch had suddenly started counting in miles, there wasn’t far to go. We chatted as we ran, taking photos and enjoying ourselves, that’s what running’s all about really.

The wonderful Dave Woodhead who, along with his wife Eileen organises and photographs Woodentops fell races, was waiting for us and heard our tale of woe. He thought it was hilarious, well, he would, wouldn’t he? As usual, his photos made us look rather cool. Gotta love that guy!

As we ran up those cobbles,  crossing the finish line joint last, we laughed, but not caring one jot. We’d had an adventure, and Maika had another Yorkshire story to tell.

Nearly there! Thanks to Dave Woodhead for the photo!

Choose your heros

Nicky Spinks. My hero. Photo from The Guardian.

I’m very picky about my heroes. They have to be doing something I aspire to, even if it’s only in my head. They have to be ordinary, because it’s easy to be a hero if you’re famous, or rich, or both. They have to have overcome adversity in a superhuman way and, above all, they have to be modest. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a show-off superhero big-head.

This week I had the honour of meeting one of my heroes, or rather heroines. She’s a record-breaking runner who has just marked her tenth year after being treated for breast cancer. The cancer didn’t stop her running, by the way, well, not for long. She is pretty much unstoppable.

Nicky Spinks is an extraordinary woman. Like me, she came to running rather late, unike me, she’s very good at it. She started off with 5kms, 10kms and then half marathons. But these were on road, and as any discerning runner knows, roads are only good for getting to the off-road. Plus, Nicky is a farmer, spending most of her time outside in all weather and all times of day and night, so the fells are where it’s at for her.

There’s no medals or even tee-shirts, no cheering crowds en route, not even a finish tape, but touching the wall of the hall in the centre of Kewsick, marked Nicky’s record-breaking run of the Bob Graham Round. That’s 42 summits in the Lake District, in less than 24 hours. Not content with such a fantastic achievement, she decided she’s have a go at the double, that’s doing the whole thing twice, in less than 48 hours. Earlier this year, she did just that, bloody hell, she ran the whole thing once, then once again, in 45 hours, 30 minutes, setting a new record. Bloody hell.

Nicky came over to Leeds to tell her story at a small fund-raising event organised by a local running club. For a modest fee of £3 each, we heard her amazing story, how she ran for the love of it, ran well, ran hard and just kept on running into the record books.

Her account was remarkably humble, she talked about how she fitted her running around her very busy life as a farmer, even finding time to coach the juniors at her local club. When asked about her cancer, she said she’d stayed up-beat, even seeing the offer of reconstructive surgery as a positive, as to her that meant treatment was over and she was on the way to recovery. I wasn’t surprised when she told us that the doctors liked treating her because she was so positive.

She showed us a film of her run. In it, she is so matter-of-fact, allowing the camera to see her at her highs and her lows, brushing off a deep cut on her hand with an almost Monty Pythonesque ’tis but a scratch’. A scratch? I’m sure I could see daylight through that gash.

She ate whatever she could keep down under such exertion, bringing some of it back, while still moving, and assessing what she had and hadn’t digested so she could take on more food if needed. Cheered on by no more than a couple of dozen people, arriving back at the dead of night and touching that wall before sitting down in a damping chair to smile the satisfied smile of a record-breaker. A fantastic achievement.

I was totally inspired by this 48-year-old woman who’d worked and trained hard to achieve what she set out to do, quickly and quietly. I’m not sure if I could do what she has done, other than gashing my hand and being sick, but seeing her, listening to her, being in her presence, makes me at least want to head for the Lakeland Fells and run, run, RUN. Thank you, Nicky, you are my hero.

Losty McLostface

Setting off across the fells, we weren’t lost at this point. Photo: Steve Gledhill

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.

Conquering the Stoop

Photo courtesy Scott Leach

A man in a penguin outfit is shouting at 300 runners in Santa hats, shivering in a bleak Yorkshire gritstone quarry high up in Bronte country. That’s festive fellrunning for you.

Mr Penguin, aka Dave Woodhead, a rather excellent chap who, along with his wife Eileen (who’s not a penguin, nor indeed any other bird) organises, photographs and generally makes fell races happen in Yorkshire. He is taking no nonsense as he lays down the FRA (Fell Runner Association) rules. Usually this involves carrying a rucksack with spare clothes, food, head torch, sometimes a tent, maybe a kitchen sink.

But today, there’s only one rule. Everyone, with no exceptions, must wear a Santa hat, supplied with the £4 entry fee, along with a Cadbury’s Wurly (which can be eaten rather than worn). Failure to comply means disqualification. No-one argues with the penguin.

It must have been a bizarre sight, hundreds of red hats emerging from a quarry and heading across the moors to the boundary  stone between Haworth and Oxenhope, called The Stoop, and I was wearing one of them.

A mere five miles, but with the thick, sticky mud, deep standing water, deep ruts and slippery stones, it definitely seemed longer. I mustn’t have been trying hard enough, because I didn’t fall, though I did collect a lot of mud. Noel fell four times, so he tried enough for both of us.

My friend Jill and I were bringing up the rear, far too busy chatting to make quick progress. But as always it’s the taking part, not the winning that matters. Followed by hot soup in the pub afterwards, spot prizes, (I won one), then the satisfying tightening of the skin on your legs as the moorland mud and crud dries and finally crumbles into the footwell of the car on the way home. A great £4 worth, and we get to keep the hats.




You’ve gotta be in it to win it!

Me, my trophy and a de-mudded Reena
Me, my trophy and a de-mudded Reena

OK, I’m just going to come straight out with it. I won a trophy. For running. Me. Plodfoot Anne. And not that namby-pamby road running, but proper fell running on hills, rocks, tree roots, mud and poo. I may have to buy a trophy cabinet.

I was a respectable 115th in the Cop Hill Fell Race, a two-lap 10km gallop up the aforementioned Pennine Way fell, with about 300m of ascent. Unfortunately with a field of just 115 that made me last, they didn’t count my new best mate Simon The Backmarker who’d kept me company and we chatted all the way round, well, that’s what you do in races, isn’t it?

With just over a week to go to the Gower Half Marathon and having entered Cop Hill on a whim because I fancied a change of running scenery, I wasn’t too downhearted at coming in last. It was a beautiful day, the November sun was warm and the scenery was stunning. The marshals were cheery, giving Simon a bit of Yorkshire lip as he passed. He deserves it, he’s a softie road runner and he’s from Lancashire.

There’s one thing you need to know about fell races, they are inexpensive community events which attract dozens, rather than hundreds and definitely not thousands. There’s no goodie bags, tee-shirts or medals-for-all. But there is tea and home-made cake for a pound a head, what a bargain! Yes there are prizes, but I never bother my pretty little head about those, except to congratulate the god-like running creatures who usually lap me.

I’d just said goodbye to clubmate Reena, who’d out-mudded me be going apex over base in the Meltham Swamp and as I closed the door I heard my name announced. I’d won a prize and a trophy, not for being the slowest, though if there was one I’d have aced that. No, it was for being the first female in my age group, the fact that I was the only female in my age group was neither here nor there. I was so delighted, I hugged the announcer, I don’t think there’s ever been any hugging of announcers at fell race presentations, he was rather shocked. Actually, I think I may have kissed him too.

Grinning from ear to ear, clutching my trophy, I did a little ‘I won a running prize’ dance in the car park, it felt good. We’d planned to head on to nearby Marsden to see and photograph our friends who were taking part in the 30-mile White Rose Ultra, so I made sure I stuck the trophy in the camera bag in case anyone stole the car. I mean, the car is insured, but the trophy is irreplaceable.

While waiting at the beautiful Blackmoorfoot Reservoir, we bumped into Robin, who’d been one of the marshals at Cop Hill. He confessed that my delight at carrying off the prize had made his day. It made mine too!

The Bob Graham what?

There’s a place on the doorway of Keswick’s Moot Hall that has been hit, slapped, stroked and smacked 2000 times by men and women, who then either laughed, cried, swore or collapsed, or maybe all four. They are the best of the best, the Top Gun of endurance runners, they are the elite who have completed the Bob Graham Round.

The what? Who’s Bob Graham? And why’s he round? And what’s with the building slapping already? Let me tell you, if I’d set off from that same building 24 hours earlier and run up and down 42 of the Lake District’s fells non-stop, then I’d be so glad to see it again, I’d want that building’s children. Not that it’s anything I’ll be doing any time, soon, or indeed ever, but I know a man who did.

The Bob Graham Round isn’t a race, although it’s against the clock, it isn’t a competition, though people compete, and there are no prizes or medals, just a certificate and and membership of a very exclusive club.

It all started in 1932, when a hotelier by the name of Bob Graham got it into his head that he’d quite like to run around those 42 Lakeland peaks oh, and by the way, do it in 24 hours. He was a fit lad, even for a 42-year-old and he was no stranger to the slippery-slidey ways of the scree and rocks. His feat became a challenge and now each year 100 or so give it a go, 66 miles and 8,229m of ascent (that’s nearly the height of Everest from sea level).

Of course you can’t do it alone, for a start there have to be witnesses at the top of each peak and then there’s support crews to feed and and water, lay out a change of clothes, shoes and socks and apply anti-chafing cream to those rubbed bits. My friend Nathan had recruited a fantastic team of volunteers, who were happy to run with him throughout the night, keep him company, carry his stuff and witness the summits. His partner Bev had co-ordinated the support crew and made sure everyone was well fed, and that Nathan was sustained by the Food of the Gods, cold rice pudding and peaches.

The weather couldn’t have been better and everything went to plan, with Nathan slapping the Moot Hall less than 24 hours after he left it, then sliding to the ground in the same way as the Pope kisses the ground when he arrives in a new land after a journey. He was approached by a total stranger who shook his hand and offered his congratulations, while tourists clutching their Kendal Mint Cake and Cartmel Sticky Toffee Pudding looked on with a mixture of curiosity and mild annoyance at the commotion.  There aren’t that many who know about the Bob Graham and even less who call it the BG, but it doesn’t matter to those who’ve done it. They know what they’ve done and that’s enough.

What an achievement! Inspired? Oh yes. Starting the training, then? Not unless there’s a plodfoot version, but then that wouldn’t be elite, would it? But I’d definitely be up for doling out the rice pudding and peaches!