Rewind to February 2018 when I stood caked in mud at the finish line of the 100 km Tarawera Ultra-marathon in New Zealand. Someone walks up to me and asks me where I am from. ‘The UK’ I say half delirious. ‘I can see that’ perks up the guy called ‘James’ with the Yorkshire accent pointing to the Union Jack flag muded up on my race bib which I had all but forgotten about. From there on we got talking about ultras in the UK and the ‘Pennine Barrier’ came up in conversation, one I’d had my eye on for a year or so because I love the Yorkshire Dales as much as I love New Zealand.
After a few email conversations, James entered the 100, I was holding back due to my inability to commit, fearful about injury and shear lack of confidence that me my body and I could run 100 miles, yet it had been an ambition of mine deep down in my mind to achieve this far-out distance.
Fast forward to three weeks before the race, I’d just completed the St Begas Ultra – a 37 mile event from Keswick to St Bee’s and it was time to bite the bullet and press that enter button on the GB Ultra’s website.
I’d been up to Malham both bank holidays to run and walk the route and gatecrashed a Doncaster AC outing around the Three Yorkshire Peaks a few weeks before the event, so not only was I was familiar with the route but I was also in love with the route ready to bounce over every limestone rock and trample down every blade of grass, to circumvent all three Yorkshire Peaks and break the Pennine Barrier into tiny pieces of Kendal Mint Cake. Not just once but twice. It was only me and my mind that knew I really wanted to do the 100 rather than the 50. Well I’d try if nothing else.
Let your ambitions fly, let nothing hold you back
There were just a few tents pitched up when I arrived at Riverdale campsite. Located just a 5 minute walk from the village centre, event registration and the start line. I had a chat to the guys already settled on the campsite. Once I was pitched up and had scoffed down my ultra lunch I took myself off for a visualisation walk. Tracing the steps of the what would be the second lap, it took me up through the pretty little thing called Janet’s Foss and through the magnificent Gordale Scar to scale the Waterfall. I began visualising myself after 51 miles clambering up the rocks as I discerningly mounted each rugged rock.
When I reached the bleakness of Malham Tarn I took a slightly less used path to the race route across the rough pastures, full of cows. Normally I am not cow afraid but, today a cow was not having it. It stared angrily at me then charged towards me, with with an assuring boldness that scared the crap out of me. How now brown cow, calm down. I didnt know what to do. Don’t run I whispered to myself as there were cows surrounding me everywhere, dis-trustingly glaring right through me. I crouched down just as the cow charged for me and collided into my back leaving me a little shaken up. I contemplated crying but instead picked myself up and walked slowly on, sulking and sore. Holy cow.
Back at the tent I checked out my back it was OK, it was fine it was all good I could do the downward dog and the cat stretch. At least I had got my first excuse in the bag. More to come later.
It was time to register, easy kit check, head torch, water bottles and map and compass all ticked off. I bumped into James and his friend and fellow Kiwi followers, it appeared he’d brought the whole of New Zealand across with him. Sheep included.
Back at the campsite, food was in the form of the previous nights’ pasta warmed in my Alpkit Jetboil multitasking with a kit faff. Then of course more food in the form of rice pudding, then more kit check faff then a cup of tea then even more kit check faff. How much kit check faff can anyone do in 1 night?
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. – Edward Everett Hale
I checked my bib, because I was late entering it was inscribed with #penninebarrier on it rather than my name. However it also supported the number 50 on it not 100, my heart sank, was this an premonition to tell me I wasn’t ready for the 100? I raced back to registration to check but alas they defiantly had me down for the 100. I vandalised the number 50 and replaced it with a messy 100 simply for my own mental well-being.
It was the night after longest day of the year so the evening was still young even at 10.15pm. Normal campsite noises surrounded the tent but that was expected. I am used to camping with ultras, from 5 nights camping on the 4 day Devon Coast to Coast Ultra to two nights before and after the SBU35, me, my tent and I, along with a tent full of running porn.
I got woken up by a many a bright tweets. It wasn’t my twitter feed going on overdrive as very few people knew I was attempting the 100. A few people knew I was running ‘The Pennine Barrier’ but they assumed I was doing the 50 – just one lap of the course. Rather it was the tweeting of the birds, melodies of unknown songs ringing around the campsite waking up the apprehension of the new day.
On went the Alpkit jetboil for a cuppa tea and hot water for the porridge pot. Now porridge pots have normally been good for me before a running event. With an added spoonful of protein powder and some ginger pieces it was my ‘go to’ ultra breakfast. But not today.
I spooned down the porridge setting like cement into my belly. I went to the toilet to do things you do in toilets and brush the teeth. As I returned to the tent I felt sick. Next minute I’d thrown up outside my tent door. I’d not thrown up for 20 plus years, what was going on? My wobbly stomach continued to tremble even more. I staggered to the edge of the long grass burst into a hot shiver if there is ever such a thing, clutching my inners, sweating bullets and twice more threw up. The kind man next to me gave me some mouthwash and water, his son Ian was running the 50 so thank you Ian’s father for the kindness. Once I’d come round I walked soberly to the start with a cup of tea in my hand that I ended up flinging into a bin. I was shaking, I was cold, I felt sick again but nothing was in me apart from an empty irritable tummy and an empty irritable mind.
You can’t die from a stomach ache. The worst that can happen is that you’ll throw up. Then you can eat some more and start running again.- Jack Bristol
I met Amy who I’d ran with many years ago in the Peak District. We had a chat, and I caught up with Martin and the Doncaster AC crew as well to take my mind off how I was feeling.
Race briefing was 10 minutes before the start of the race. Unfortunately I couldn’t really hear properly as I was trying to steady my inner tremors fearful that I wouldn’t even start. I stood near the back and tried to keep my breathing regular. I’d never felt this strung out before a race ever. It didnt even register with me that I was about to run 100 miles.
Before I could feel any more sorry for myself, runners shuffled forward and we were off. The first couple of miles up the village of Malham and onto the Pennine Way I chatted to Amy and her friends, this took my mind off my suffering and I began to relax into the beautiful surroundings.
The stunning geographical prominence of the interlocking mosaic that is the limestone pavement at the top of Malham Cove saw runners dashing off in all sorts of directions, converging back onto the official ‘Pennine Way’ route only moments later. A drone above us hummed in the morning dew with a photographer strategically placed at the top of the first grunt up the dry valley and around Ing Scar. The tricky limestone rocks flattened out to a beautiful swathe of rolling green grass bouncing beneath the pitter patter of a few hundred ultra runners feet.
The ‘out and back’ to add up the extra miles, was just about manageable; As I started the 2 mile journey on tarmac runners were already coming back in force fighting for first place. As all 100s and 50s were mixed together it was impossible to tell who was who. I knew I was near the back but 100 miles is a long way. I think.
Across and round Malham Tarn – the highest upland lake in England, silent and calm apart from all these ultra runners creating havoc at an unearthly time of the morning. The morning sun was muted by a thin layer of fluffy cloud. An almost perfect day for running.
Onto farmland pastures negotiating the little stony tracks. I was embedded into my own mind and beginning to brighten up. My stomach was ready for some food so I munched on one of the few cereal bars that I’d brought with me. I’d been told checkpoints were like a family picnic on steroids so I’d not brought too much food myself, a few emergency gels, kendal mint cake, 2 cereal bars, some chocolate mintos (I love these its my new ‘go to’ ultra fix) and tailwind, a mix of sachets and made up bags of green tea.
Don’t out-run your stomach.
The climb up the eastern side of Fountains Fell is a gentle ascending path running over a couple of miles with a mix of terrain. The tops could be made out amongst the high cloud in the distant horizon. I was running well now, my body rejuvenated itself and all memories of sickness had been erased. I began to ‘overtake’ a few people, not deliberately of course as I knew I had a long way to go regardless of whether I was to do the 100 or the 50. I wasn’t thinking that far ahead at the moment but I defiantly wasn’t in the ‘slow lane’.
Down the western side of Fountains Fell, we all fell. Some of the guys seemed to be picking their way down the more technical terrain very slowly. I danced down merrily, that was fun I whispered to myself, but would it be fun in another 12 to 15 hours?
The first checkpoint was in sight, I had my speed cup ready for it was a cup less event and an extra soft flask in my backpack. I filled the soft flask with coke (It was only 8am in the morning but do we care?) and scrutinised all the goodies on offer. I took some crepes with chocolate spread to place them into one of my sandwich bags, I didn’t want to hang around too long. It was the nearest I was going to get to ‘breakfast food’ at this time of the morning (we obviously do care). Martin’s wife was there and kindly asked me if I was ‘OK’ and commented that I looked heaps better than I did 2 hours ago – phew….
The cloud invasion wrapped itself elegantly around the valley below. It was warm but not hot, cloudy but not overcast. Many runners running, laughing, joking and smiling as they continued their journey up towards Pen-y-ghent summit. Half way up another photographer captured all those magic moments, the magic smiles and the magic of ultra running full stop.
I caught up with Alan and Des from Doncaster AC and we had a little chin wag. This was is was their first 50 and they were in high spirits. I then went on my way scrambling my way up the rocky sections of Pen-y-ghent. Half way up the path joins into the official ‘Three Yorkshire Peaks’ route from Horton in Ribblesdale where we would ascend up in a few hours time and again 12 to 16 or so hours later. Maybe.
It was inevitable that being the longest day weekend and the week after Ramadan we may encourage some traffic. A sticky jam of 3 Yorkshire Peak challengers clawing their way up the mountain side slowly, very slowly. Herds and herds and as frustrating as it was. it was also great to see people out there challenging themselves just like we were challenging ourselves despite it being worse than Meadowhall Shopping centre the day before Christmas. Excuse me excuse me excuse me I was saying all the time. I didn’t pause at the summit but squeezed over the stile desperate to get some space. Finally I found my way through the maze of walkers and hooked up with another 100 mile runner for a little while chatting a little about random nothingness.
Exercise is for people who can’t handle drugs and alcohol.- Lily Tomlin
Finally it was onto the flat connection between Pen-y-ghent and Whernside. there were fields, gates, wide tracks and tuffs of grass to negotiate alongside a few more groups of walkers. I was memorising the track here as the route had changed slightly only a few days before. Remember to go the ‘Three Yorkshire Peaks’ route and not the ‘Pennine Way’ route I said to myself. However at ‘unsure’ junctions the GB Ultra’s team had marked the pathways which gave that extra security that you couldn’t really get lost on this event.
Meandering around the valley for a few miles passing walkers and runners I was in my happy place sipping on my drink and munching Kendal Mint Cake here and there. Before I knew it I was on the main road. I’ve never really understood the ‘road’ section of the Three Yorkshire Peaks, its such a shame, about a mile on the B6479 which can be full of fast cars and slow walkers.
The next checkpoint around 21 miles in at Ribbleshead was a welcome sight. I love Ribbleshead, the shear humongousness of the viaduct strings its way across the magical landscape. Its stunning beauty beckoned me to run into the checkpoint with a big grin on my face.
The checkpoint was very similar to the last, the crepes had gone down well so I took some more, alongside some chocolate brownie that I put in a clean sandwich bag. I filled up with water and coke in my spare soft flask to sip as I walked and ran along the well laid pathway next to the viaduct happy as a a pig in ****. But would I feel like this in 12 to 14 hours time? Would I get back here in 12 to 14 hours time? Those were the burning questions….
I was unaware of any photographer en route here but I must have been in a happy place to be able to snap a photo of me smiling. Was it the chocolate endorphins wrapped up in chocolate spread?
The somewhat easy going pathway, runs parallel with the railway line, although relatively flat it seems to go on forever before the gruelling climb up Whernside. It was here I caught up with James and his friend. We chatted a little about random ultraness and then I went on my way opening up my cheat sticks to tackle the Whernside ascend.
Visibility was excellent. The Whernside mound radiated out beckoning us runners to ride merrily to the top. Half way up I caught up with another 100 guy and we had a good chat about more random ultra stuff. I call this guy ‘the milk man’ as he told me how much he likes to drink milk and that his 2 pints were waiting for him at a checkpoint in Horton. He was’t lying either as he powered up Fountains Fell a few hours later carrying a 2 pinter of full fat milk – respect to Mr Milk Man.
Whernside was ticked off at the drop of a hat just as I had to take off my hat as it was a little windy up on the tops. I was still running with Mr Milk Man, chasing him down the rocky and uneven banking. I’d chased Martin down this section in record time 2 weeks ago so I knew the best line to take avoiding the walkers slowly picking their way down the rocky steps. I was down before the guy behind could shout shout ‘milk’, ‘eggs’ or ‘cheese’. No photographer to shout cheese at out here.
Back onto a small section of tarmac, myself and the Milk Man were running together chatting more about milk. He informed me that we were 30 minutes up on his watch for a 12 hour lap finish. I hadn’t even bothered to look at my watch. The next checkpoint was in sight, we walked in together. I was feeling alive and knew I had more urmph in me knowing I could probably utilise that urmph a little more but didn’t want to push it as I still had Ingleborugh, half of Pen-y-ghent and the western side of Fountains Fell to get over and done with before doing it all over again. Don’t even think about it.
This time I filled up with cheese and savoury snacks and even cold pizza. My tummy doesn’t normally like pizza but hell why not in an Ultra? Other delights included pork pies, sausage rolls, sandwiches, peanuts, crisps, sweets – you know the score? Bagging more crepes and the very delicious homemade Chilli fudge I left the checkpoint bouncing along with a tummy full of cold pizza.
A gradual incline through fields towards Ingleborough felt relaxed and smooth. Through the gate and onto the slab stones. I ran on, the legs were feeling strong and the mind feeling even stronger. I love the scramble up Ingleborough. But then I am a bit peculiar at times.
Perhaps the genius of ultrarunning is its supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense in a world of space ships and supercomputers to run vast distances on foot. There is no money in it and no fame, frequently not even the approval of peers. But as poets, apostles and philosophers have insisted from the dawn of time, there is more to life than logic and common sense.The ultra runners know this instinctively. And they know something else that is lost on the sedentary. They understand, perhaps better than anyone, that the doors to the spirit will swing open with physical effort. In running such long and taxing distances they answer a call from the deepest realms of their being — a call that asks who they are – David Blaikie
Now towards the top it is certainty a scramble, hands and feet need to be in full action to wrench yourself up some of the misplaced rocks. The day walkers let me past as I speedily meandered up. Just before the top Race Director Wayne had strategically placed himself and his camera to capture our deranged ultra look we effortly or effortlessly popped out. ‘Do I have to pretend I am running?’ I said to him as I tried to run for the camera. We had a chat and I told him what a great route it was and that I was having a great time. But would I be having a great time some 12 or 14 hours later in the dark? Only time would tell.
Many a runners were now clumsily picking their way up the final ascent to the trig at the top of Ingleborough to ‘tag’ it before following the same path down a small way then then bearing off to the right down the pathway to Horton in Ribblesdale. The line off the plateau of Ingleborough would be more tricky in the dark but was straight forward ‘today’.
Ultra-runners don’t compromise … they cope. – Bob Sharpley
As I dropped down to start my 5 mile or so descend to Horton through the dry creek beds I started to fatigue. I am not sure why it just seemed such a struggle to move. The pathway although tricky in some places is runnable and after a mile or so it’s also quite bouncy and could easily inject type 1 fun into the journey but my legs instead were being sapped by the slab stones, the limestone rocks and the dry peaty beds. This was type 2 fun. Not a great place to be. I began to walk, dragging my legs across the limestone boulders and across the fields. The situation was aggravated more because I so needed a poo. I couldn’t go in the middle of the field although I had sandwich bags, I was not going to create a **** sandwich.
Don’t fear moving slowly forward … fear standing still. – Kathleen Harris
I held it in, feeling a little crampy, knowing toilets were near. Crossing the railway line without even looking I ran into the checkpoint more desperate for a poo than food and water. A quick turnaround with water, coke refill and a few other goodies probably salted peanuts and some more brownies and all the other really healthy stuff that us Ultra runners eat. But really all I could think about was the poo.
The toilets in the car park at Horton were only a few 100 yards away so I made a swift exit and ran to the toilets, straight in and pushed a door open to reveal a lady in all her glory. I apologise now but I really did need a poo I proceeded to do the ‘poo’ dance for a while until a cubicle came available then sat down in my own glory with relief.
I came out and a woman must have seen the relief on my face ‘you look relived well done I bet you’re glad you’ve finished the Three Yorkshire Peaks’ she said – ‘uuuhhh I replied I’ve got another 65 miles to go I mumbled’ and left her looking less relieved than my bowels.
I then caught up with milk man again and we ascended half of Pen-y-ghent again before dropping down to the checkpoint that we’d ransacked on the way out. More cheese squares this time, (not to be mistaken for the chunks of marzipan) and maybe a few crisps washed down with a bit of water before the ‘home straight’ of around 12 miles.
We take these risks not to escape life, but to prevent life from escaping us. – Scott Crabb
The ascent back up the western side of Fountains Fell always seems challenging, because it is only 26 metres less than its neighbouring Pen-y-ghent. I call it the unforgotten peak of the Yorkshire Dales. Gradually I climbed up the technical ground picking my way through rocky gully’s. I was so pleased the weather was kind to us today. The milk from the milk man obviously worked as he stormed up Fountains fell knocking off every single runner as he powered on up carrying his 2 pinter of full fat milk. Unbelievable.
Once at the top I took a few minutes to gaze around. The Yorkshire Dales were basking in their quintessentially English surroundings. Dry stone walls forever. This is why I am in love with this place and in love with making long distance running simple, just run.
It just doesn’t get any better than this. – Chris Nymann
The descent back down became my happy hunting ground, jumping dancing and squealing down the pathways, some slightly rocky, some paved, some slightly squidgy, trampolining my way down. I caught up with two guys doing the 100 and tailgated them until very near the end homing in on their 100 advice for being a 100 virgin I was all on for taking other peoples advice.
We walked jogged and chatted, held gates open for each other and did what ultra runners do best, simply enjoy the run back through the limestone pastures, it was so so simple. Really.
Just before the road I over took another Doncaster AC guy also called Martin, asking if he was OK, he seemed a bit grumpy, only a few more miles I said cheerfully before bouncing back onto the road. Happiness is a 100 mile runner.
Onto the road leading up to Malham Tarn field centre I was still with the 100 mile men, we chatted more as we walked up the inclining road. It was payback time for me being a bit smug earlier , as a very strong girl in a yellow top came bounding past – she looked incredibly strong and focused. At Malham Tarn we caught up with her. A quick chat revealed that she was attempting the 100 too. I was mighty impressed with the run up the road that she displayed. She then sped on over Malham Tarn and down the valley in one whole scoop. One of the guys asked if I was going to chase her, no point I said she’s much stronger than me, anyway still had 54 miles to go. 54 miles is still a long way to go and I was quite happy doing what I was doing.
How many days does it take to run a hundred miles? – Skip Eastman
Back to the limestone pavement this time the route turned the other way for over a mile and a half descending to Janet’s Foss – a picturesque spot with a small but magical waterfall engulfing an emerald green water pool. Before this descent we took time to look around at the brilliant views down the dale towards the ‘Finish’ and beyond.
Just before Janet’s Foss I saw the first of the 100 mile runners head back out, this time via Goredale Scar. I said hi to them and wished them all the best. They looked proper strong ultra runners. Meanwhile myself and the other 100 mile men (or man called Ian) were running down the easy going pathway back to the start to the marque and ‘finish’ line.
Back onto the road in Malham we were nearly there, well nearly half way there. Just up into the showground field and we would be half way there. I caught up the lady in yellow as we both registered our numbers, then picked up and faffed with my drop bag.
The other girl didn’t go into the marque so I suspected she already had family and crew to help sort herself out. I picked up some soup and a cuppa tea and asked if there were any more sandwiches as I was craving just bread. I scoffed some cheese and pickle slices and demolished a few tuna ones whilst sorting out my drop bag. The next mission. The bag faff. This is something that I really need to nail next time. I did far too much faffing despite having different bits and pieces in different dry bags I felt that I faffed far too much.
Why would anyone want to do this a second time? – Sue Haupt
It was still warm so I opted for shorts and tee for my full set of kit change. My 3/4 trousers and x2 long sleeved tops were laid at the top of my pack and I buried my merino hat, gloves and buff further down. Alongside grabbing some more tailwind sachets, made up custard and rice pudding zip bag mosh, a pot of instant mash potato in case there was hot water at the later check points, more Kendal mint cake and a packet of minto choc mints. I also picked up my spare head torch my new Petzl Nao. With much a do about everything I sat down a bit more and faffed a bit more wondering if I had everything, gulped down the tomato soup on offer and took the offer of more tuna strip sarnies. James had just come into the marque, we exchanged conversations checking we were both ‘OK’ then it was time for me to go, to go into the unknown, now unfriended, now alone, now scared.
The first 50 miles are run with the legs, the second 50 miles with the mind. – Unknown
Just before Janet’s Foss I bumped into Amy coming in for her 50. An engulfing hug really boosted me up, passing on some of her magic ultra power to help me continue my journey into the uncertain mind. How far could my body go, how far could my mind go, how far could I go?
I approached Goredale Scar running a little scared. Goredale Scar is a magnificent and timeless carved landscape. I picked my way through the rocks and water pools to the little climb up the somewhat dry waterfall that I had tested out the day before. I knew the simple way up so took hold of the rocky shelves one by one and gripped onto them as I hoisted myself up, feet precariously placed between the gaps. Then I was there on top of the waterfall, I glanced down at the striking rocks below and at felt totally on top of the world.
The climb up onto Malham Moor I found arduous, after the thrill of scaling the waterfall I began to fatigue and my mind began to doubt my body. I pulled out an ‘energy’ bar that we; – my friend Becky and I had been given for free at the Derby Half Marathon a few weeks before. My attention then spanned to my best friend Becky battling the terminality of stage 4 Lung Cancer. I contemplated the beauty around me and how lucky I was to even be able at attempt this, my thoughts homing in on Becky, the only person really who knew I was doing this apart from those doing the race. I also thought about James, I’d read his biog about the suffering of his son, we we all doing this event for different reasons, I do it because I think I can, although sometimes I think I can’t but my body allows me to at least have a go.
Fear is a part of everything you do … You have to take great risks to get big rewards.- Greg Louganis
Thoughts wandered as glimpses of Malham Tarn would emerge on the horizon and two runners in the far distance, their silhouettes running running far far away from me. By the time I got to the tarn they had all but disappeared. Some of the 50 milers were heading ‘home’. I directed two of them the correct way as they were going up from where I had come from. I exchanged well doings to others as they congratulated me back.
Through the limestone meadows once again, nodding congratulations to each and every runner passing the other way. I felt content or as content as you can feel after 55 miles. Fountains Fell once again overhung the horizon. I could now make out two runners mounting the fell. The girl (called Sally) with the yellow tee and someone else, whether she had a ‘pacer’ or hooked up with someone else I wasn’t sure. I continued to follow them gaining on them each time my foot would hit the ground.
I stopped at the top to take a photo of the magnificent light beaming over Pen-yghent. The other two had escaped down the other side of Fountains Fell. Let it be, let it be let it be. I was not going to miss the awesomeness of the low light over the first of the Three Yorkshire Peaks. The Absolute enormity of this challenge was now beginning to set in as I could see all three peaks beckoning me to run to them as dusk would gently fall.
Down Fountains Fell the last of the 50 mile runners were struggling up the incline as I picked my way down slightly slower than some 14 or so hours before hand.
As I came into the checkpoint, the Sally and the pacer were just leaving. I wasn’t going to chase, I wasn’t going to chase, 40 plus miles to I would do my own thing. I would not play at chase. I had my own game to play maybe I would play hopscotch instead?. I grabbed some food and stocked up on water and fuel. The two runners were now so far infront I couldn’t even make them out going up the long winding pathway to Pen-yghent.
The 10-K is a race. The marathon is an experience. The ultra is an adventure.- Bryan Hacker
Slowly my body began to fade in unison with the sun fading, slowly drifting down into darkness. My mind followed, only thing that was running were negative thoughts in my mind. So much for enjoying the game. Without warning, I began to get very very cold, as my skin cooled with the nippy breeze and I began to shiver. I’d done over 60 miles was this my body telling me it was at its limit or did I really have another 40 miles in me?
Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I sent a text message to Becky the words ‘Not doing good at all v cold’. I stopped, my heart sank just as the sun did the same. I pulled on my two long sleeved tops, slid on my bottoms and out came the hat and gloves. I felt slightly warmer and broke into a brisk jog up the boardwalks trying to focusing on the near on vertical crag of Pen-yGhent gleaming in the twilight. I would not be defeated, not yet anyway.
I looked back and saw someone slowly creeping up on me. In a way I was hoping it was James as we’d be able to have a little chat, but that never happened because the ultra running magic wand was waved at that very moment.
The magic of ultra running is such that the bad patch always turns into a good patch. A wave of determination washed over me, I was now going to try to climb Pen-yGhent before the light all but disappeared. The sun had already gone to bed but it was a bright night and light was still on my side. I scrambled up the scrambly bits and onto the rocky pathway to the second of the scrambles.
As the evening light faded further I ran towards the summit on the flagstones. Someone was walking towards me, Wayne the Race Director. He asked me how I was. I was brutally honest, and told him I’d just had a dark patch my first one in the event. He kindly ran with me for a mile or so taking a photo or two at the trig of Pen-yghent.
I tried to smile but still felt a little low. We chatted some more as we descended down on the recently laid flagstone steps. I commented how strong the girl ahead appeared and that I couldn’t see them for dust or dusk. Wayne gave me some really solid advice, telling me to concentrate on me myself and I and not what other people are doing. I followed that advice there on.
Pushing your body past what you thought it was capable of is easy; the hard part is pushing yourself even further … past what your mind wants to let you. That’s what ultra running is all about; introducing you to a self you’ve never known. – Rex Pace
I was feeling excited now for the adventure ahead. I had just passed the 64 mile mark – possibly the furthest I have ever ran in one go. With positiveness and the full moon on my side, I ran into the deepest depths of the night sky.
You cannot defeat darkness by running from it, nor can you conquer your inner demons by hiding them from the world. In order to defeat the darkness, you must bring it into the light.
The stars beckoned me as I ran towards them, my new Nao head torch picking its way through the trails. Only having purchased it a few weeks before and taken it out on a little local run I’d set it on the computer to last 6.5 hours. However as compulsory gear said ‘spare light’ inside my bag was also my spare old LED sensor.
I thought this head torch was too clever for its own good’. I was to be caught out a few hours later. You know what they say about trying new things in ‘races’? But for now the going was good.
Cows and sheep moved randomly between my head torch beams, eyes blinking frequently. Then the cows, oh my the cows. I was now petrified of the cows after the cowardly incident the day before. I walked past the burly black shadows shuddering as their full fat eyes shimmered forcefully right at me, ready to eat me up. I covered up my head torch lamp with my hand and cautiously picked my way through the fields. As I did so I was convinced there were more cows right ahead of me billowing in the darkness but they were in fact clumps of grass waving gently in the night breeze.
Do the thing and have the power – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I was in good spirits as I hit the road. No cars, no walkers just simply me and the stars. Yet again no glimmer of head torches ahead or behind. The darkness on one of the most moonlit nights of the year was refreshing and mystical. My thoughts drifted to the lump on the horizon, that lump being Whernside where I could just make out one or two flickers of head torches making their way up the hillside.
I approached the checkpoint in good spirits with a warm welcome off those manning the pop up ‘supermarket’ at this unearthly time of the evening or was it the morning? I couldn’t be bothered with time. This destiny was timeless.
It was with utter most shock that they announced I was ‘first lady’ and ‘8th’ overall huh? I questioned them about 3 times, how? why? when? There was defiantly a girl infront called Sally I said, but they convinced me no one had come through, surely they’d not gone wrong or dropped out she looked so strong and focused.
Feeling an energy of determination flow over me, I began to realise that I only had 30 miles left. I’d ran further than I’d ever gone before, and I was in a good place. Mind, body and ‘race’. Oh it’s a race I’d better get a move on then.
This was the longest stretch of the event without any checkpoint as the food and drinks stall at the bottom of Ingleborough had been removed for the 100 mile runners. So I stocked up on a bag of crisps, not any old bag of crisps but crisps I’d never had before – quaver crisps. You know what they say about never trying anything new in a race….
So here I was, a magical moment munching my way through a bag of Quaver crisps whilst running parallel to the dark magisterial structure of Ribbleshead viaduct, heading towards Whernside. My skin was now tingling, this was beautiful. Songs drifted in and out of my head and I began to change the lyrics to George Ezra’s ‘Shotgun’.
Time flys by in my crazy big dream
Stick around and you’ll know what I mean
There’s a mountain top that I’m dreaming of
If you need me you won’t know where I’ll be
I’ll be doing a run
underneath the evening sun
Feeling like I’m someone
My feet followed the beam of my ‘reactive’ head torch upwards to the top of Whernside. Half way up I heard a beeping – my phone, surely no none was texting me at this time of the morning? I pulled my phone out and realised the battery was about to die. It was not something I wanted to do (die), so I promptly plugged it into the power bank I was carrying.
Feeling anxious that I had little battery on the phone, I manoeuvred upwards on wards concentrating on not doing anything stupid and reacting to my reactive Nao head torch that would go dim and then bright depending on where I would shine it.
Each time you run you will receive lessons. You have enrolled in the school of ultrarunning. You may like the lessons or think them irrelevant and stupid. What you think makes no difference; the lessons will be presented until they are learned. – Keith Pippin
I was just getting used to the head torch then about 100 yards before the summit of Whernside it started flashing 3 times. I’d read in the instructions that flashing 3 times meant the battery was dying. Oh not again, I cried out loud and swiftly whipped my LED Sensor out as quick as I could. My LED Sensor is a good bit of kit but I’ve had it quite a few years and the battery only lasts a couple of hours these days although it also takes AAA batteries. I’d stupidly left the AAA batteries in my drop bag back at Malham. I cursed myself, as I was about to head down the trickiest of tricky descents off Whernside. I put the head torch on the lowest of low settings and gently picked my way down the mountain path with minimal light. It was technically challenging enough in daylight like running 100 miles wasn’t challenging enough. I could barely pick out the loose rock and steep banking. I braced my feet and slid down on my bum, picking my way down on all fours random directions. I heaved big sigh of relief when I reached the gateway to the more flatter runnable section.
I remembered at this point that I’d also put a second power bank into my rucksack (hurrah) so once down onto the even terrain I connected my Nao to my power bank in hope to give myself better light at the top of Ingleborough.
When you run there are no mistakes, only lessons. The art and science of ultrarunning is a process of trial, error and experimentation. The failed experiments are as much a part of the process as the combination that ultimately works. – Keith Pippin
Those high spirits of earlier had been lost at the top of Whernside and to add to my sobering misfortune (sob story at its best) I’d misplaced my gorgeous Kiwi Tarawera Ultra buff. No time to cry over spilt buffs though.
As I made my way across the flatter wide valley floor I looked up at the darkness watching the flickering of other head torches descending Whernside much faster than I had, ready to perhaps over take me?
I got a move on ready to tackle Ingleborough. I didnt expect a pretzel van strategically placed en route. How often do you get handed chocolate pretzels at 2.30am in the morning on a random road in the middle of the Yorkshire Dales? It’s little touches like this that make the experience so magical.
The torch was still on low beam, I continued through the darkened fields trying the best I could to follow the track up to the gate leading to Ingleborough Mountain. Meanwhile I would see the odd flash of a head torch on the horizon of Ingleborough a good 2 miles away. I had no idea what time it was and I had no clue what day. All I knew was that I had to keep running forward. Not stopping for anything.
Everything is broken up into a few steps at a time looking at how far the run is and you’d never begin. Don’t over think it just run
The climb up the face of Ingleborough felt just as strong as in daylight despite the lack of light. Still on minimum beam I managed to put my hand in some nettles and on a slug urghghgh….. on wards and upwards.
I scrambled onto the ridge and as I did so I spotted a head torch beaming towards me. A runner was coming down from the Trig. I was convinced he’d gone too far but he was convinced otherwise. When I passed the rock on the left to indicate the route Horton In Ribblesdale I whistled him back. I proceeded to climb up to the top of Ingleborough the blanket of blackness lay effortlessly on plateau.
The only way to define your limits is by going beyond them. – Arthur Clarke
I tagged the trig, and with a deep breath I scrambled my way back down the way I had come, so I thought. This section worried me as the plateau can be deceiving. I put my head torch on full beam but still nearly managed to veer too far left to end up right on the ridge, rather than re trace my steps the way I had come up. I glanced at the breadcrumb trail on my GPX route, the first time I had properly looked at my watch, yes I was off route. A big sigh of relief engulfed me when I spotted the cairn and the ‘entrance’ to the stony steps leading down to the junction to Horton. I was good, life was good, everything was good and I also had more power in my Nao head torch and my phone too now, So life was good. I’d conquered the most challenging sections of the route in darkness, I now had good light with me and day light would soon be on its way too.
Descending down from Whernside felt a lot easier than the day before. Plus I didn’t need a poo this time. I was in my happy place again. I caught up with the guy I’d seen earlier and asked how he was. We ran ‘together’ all the way down to Horton, making minimal conversation but conversation that would drive us both together to the finish a few hours later. There was something very unpresuming about running with this guy (who I found out only 2 miles before the end was called Jamie). That’s what I love about ultra running, you can develop this almost silent relationship with strangers, but at the same time you are striving for exactly the same thing, the finish line and sometimes no words are needed.
The world was no longer an abyss of black, the sun began rising opening into the new day as we picked our way down to the village. Cloud invasion engulfed the Ribblesdale Valley below, bringing with it a warm glow.
The birds chirped an explicit background melody in tune with my steps, steps became miles and before we could blink the sun was up and we’d reached the penultimate checkpoint at Horton.
Nobody should ever run a race where they are lapped by the sun.
I could have murdered a cup of tea, it was probably about 5 am I guessed. Jamie had a hot chocolate but I didnt want to sit down and I don’t like hot chocolate. I wondered if there was any orange – unfortunately not only blackcurrant. I’d all but forgotten about the rice pudding, cold custard and mash potato in my backpack but was more interested in their crisp selection. Monster munch pickled onion crisps or quavers. It had to be the quavers, like you do at 5 am in the morning.
Just some 15 or so miles to go. I was hunky-dory, my head was in a good place, my legs felt relatively goodish for 85 miles. Jamie was making good progress too. Run I thought lets run, as the morning light burned through the blue skies, it was going to be a scorching day. I whipped off my leggings and my long sleeved top, the warm summer sun beating down on my bear skin felt so refreshing. I covered myself in sun cream as I contemplated how far I had come.
The luxurious ache of tired but not weary limbs. – Michael Fairless
It was only at that moment when I was climbing towards Pen-yGhent once more that I realised I was way ahead of any time I could have ever wished for. We had around half a marathon to go and it had just turned around 6 am. We were on for just over 26 hours. To put it in perspective the winner in 2017 completed the route in just over 25 hours and the winning time of 2018 was over 24 hours so it’s not really a ‘fast’ 100 mile course. Then ‘fast’ and ‘ultra running’ is like discovering a ‘fast snail’. Lets not do anything stupid here just keep moving, time keeps moving so keep the body moving.
It was around this point that we caught up with another guy, one of our lot doing the 85 mile ultra shuffle dance. We passed him, checking he was OK, and went on our way. As we descended towards the final checkpoint my legs began to feel a little bruised, a dull ache crept up with every footstep but I had to keep going.
Sadly at the checkpoint there was no orange juice or tea. At this point I really didn’t know what I wanted. I was drinking a lot of water and had one ’emergency’ sachet of green tea tailwind left which I messily poured into my soft flask. The other flask was to be filled with blackcurrant juice again. As we left the final checkpoint with less than a half marathon to go we were told we were 4th and 5th. Holy Cow, 4th and 5th…. as all cow incidents of the days’ before were well forgotten.
My bandy legs were now burning, partly with the early morning sun but of course mainly due to the near on 90 miles that they had just covered. We bumped into a couple of guys going in the opposite direction with numbers pinned to their clothing, the Summer Spine Challenge – the Flare they call it, a route from Edale to Hawes.
Coming off Fountains Fell I felt like I was falling over my own legs. I felt heavy and awkward, with each footstep almost sending shock waves down to my left ankle which was beginning to feel sore. But it was nothing I couldn’t manage, I wanted this enough to finish it.
The issue isn’t so much what the body can do as much what we are willing to make it do
The hot sun bounced off the tops of the Fells, as we shuffled down the eastern side of the fell. A stream, ‘there’s a stream’ I said to Jamie I really needed a wash, I desperately needed a wash. The stream emerged ‘Oh stream I love you’ I shouted, I splashed the cool refreshing water onto my face, the chill of the water giving me a new lease of life. There were only 6 or 7 miles to go, more Spine runners came past in the opposite direction, mutually exchanging well wishes for our travels.
Given the intensity of the morning heat we were both running out of water. A tap in the toilets at the Field Centre just before Malham Tarn was a haven of relief. The tranquillity of the Tarn was soon disturbed as we passed a couple of happy campers – with happy go well wishes we continued our mission of breaking the Pennine Barrier 100.
The aptly named dry valley and Ing Scar were no more taxing than on the first lap, criss crossing the clints and grikes of the beginnings of the limestone pavement. Photographers were out in full force to get a perfect picture postcard of the limestone pavement before the mass of tourists later in the day. We were more awed by the sight of the white marque in the distant valley of Malahmdale just over 2 miles away. that meant the Pennine Barrier was about to be smashed, now don’t go doing anything stupid.
Following our footsteps of the 50 route down to Janet’s Foss once again. The steep grassy banking was now playing havoc with my ankle but this time we were really nearly there. Jamie was keeping his eye on his watch, whilst I had given up on mine a long time ago. A magic mile to go and we’d have smashed it.
When you are 99 miles into a 100-mile running race, your brain is not the same brain you started with – Paul Huddle
Through the penultimate gate we pushed on, dodging the early morning dog walkers. Crossing the bridge onto the road Jamie announced the all encompassing 100 mile mark, we’d done it, we’d done 100 miles but just a little further round the corner of awesomeness and bobdiggity to cross the official finish line.
And there we have it, two 100 mile virgins, running with perfect form through the grassy field of the showground, the camera clicking as we crossed the finish line. It seemed unreal. I then stopped running.
‘How are you’, asked the GB Ultra crew, ‘good good yes I think I am good’ I replied with all my goodness, Oh goodness joint 4th and 1st lady in a time of 26 hours and 40 minutes. Oh my goodness.
I wandered off into a daze into the marque where a lovely lady looked after me feeding me tea as I stripped off my kit to reveal a little swollen ankle. It had been giving me a little bit of grief towards the end but I didn’t let it bother me too much on the run.
I had more tea and even more tea and then some more tea because I had just gone far to long without a cup of tea.
Anyone who thinks the sky is the limit has a limited imagination. – Unknown
Whilst drinking my tea I had to text my awesome best friend Becky with the simple letters of ‘OMG’. She followed up with ‘Oh my god, yes yes’ and then ‘you are not so anonymous now!!!’ and sent me a picture of me smiling at the finish which was all over social media already.
I was smiling and I had to smile because that was 100 miles in the bag.
A huge thanks to my best friend Becky who was in my mind every step of the way. To James for probably unknowingly persuading me to sign up for the 100,. To Martin and the Doncaster AC crew for their awesome friendliness. To Amy for the company and the huge hug. To the Father of a guy called Ian who helped me ‘be sick’ on the campsite and anyone and everyone I spoke to en route, especially Jamie for the company over the last 18 miles. And last but not least every member of the GB Ultra crew for putting on a fantastic show, from the welcoming organisation to the outstanding hospitality at every checkpoint and in between as the Race Director dodged from peak to peak to ensure runners were safe and well. Thank you body for letting me do this.
Enjoy your pain, you earned it!
– Pauli Kiriu