Trailing the adventures of an ultra-marathon runner; Sheffield & the Peak District National Park, UK

Summer Spine Challenge Route Run

The idea was to run part of the Pennine Way from Edale to Hawes – inspired by the Spine Challenge Runners of 2015. 108 miles over 3 days. The breakdown had been planned like this: Day one; Edale to Mankinholes around 36-40 miles, day two; Mankinholes to Malham around 40 miles, day three; Malham to Hawes around 28 miles. The 3 days are first illustrated in pictures below, then the breakdown of each day with map and millage stages. All self supported carrying our own gear for the duration of the 3 days. Grab a cuppa and a Jaffa Cake and good luck in getting to the end of the page. 

All Photos

All 70 plus photos below available on the Flickr slideshow:

The Spine Challenge Route over 3 days: Day 1; Edale to Mankinholes

Day 1 – Edale to Mankinholes (Circa 36-40 miles)

It was Saturday 21st August as I peeled off today’s calendar quote to why I run.

This is why I run: To be the best version of myself. I love it!! It give me time to think – Power of Run

 

this-is-why-i-run_28890976980_o (800x613)It couldn’t have said it better for I was about to take on one of my running dreams alongside fellow running friend John. I had the idea 18 months ago whilst tracking the ‘Spine Challenge’ which takes place in January, a gruelling 108 miles on the Pennine Way in the height of the winter months. Or if you are even tougher the ‘Spine Route’ taking in the whole 268 miles of the Pennine Way. I am not hard enough to ever want to do the Spine Challenge itself but still wanted a piece of this challenge in more subtle weather conditions. Little did I know there were to be horrendous 50mph gusts of winds, torrential rain and floods over the next few days, come winter or summer the UK always serves its customers in whatever weather.


We set off first by bus from my house on the outskirts of Sheffield. The first negotiation point was getting thrown off the bus just after Sheffield University due to a lorry parked on a narrow street. Great – we had 15 minutes to get to the train station about a miles’s walk. Well what’s a mile when we have 108 to do in 3 days?

Just in the nick of time we made it to the station, got tickets and ‘jogged’ to the ‘hidden’ platform (2C – right at the end one of those annoyingly hidden ones). And we were on the train. No time for a cuppa tea just a big sigh of relief that we were on our way watching the somewhat bleak Peak District scenery whizz past out of the train window whilst contemplating the forthcoming days.

I will admit I had not done ample enough training for this – here comes the excuses, not fit enough, broke my leg this time 12 months ago, got a dodgy foot, got a spot on my face – we’ve heard them all before. The most I completed since April was a 26.5 mile ‘Midnight Marathon’ in the South Downs and a couple of ‘long’ 20ish mile runs in the Peak District. No back to backs or horrendously beautiful climbs. I was under prepared to what was going to hit me. On the other hand, John my running buddy for 3 days had completed some of the skyline series in the Lakes and Peaks alongside a rather amazing Triathlon but  I would do what my body would let me do. Part of me was a little concerned especially after knowing how much running I put in to complete the Ring O Fire 2 years previously (a mere 135 miles around Anglesey in Wales in 3 days – one of my favourite races). But too late to turn back I had now committed to this. To be doubtful but daring.

You have to want it, you have to plan for it you have to fit into into a busy day, you have to be mentally tough, you have to use others to help you, the hard part isn’t getting your body in shape

pennine-way_28556495494_o (713x800)So the adventure began at the ‘Pennine Way’ start sign just outside the Old Nags Head in Edale. After an obligatory photo of the Pennine Way sign we glanced at our watches – spot on 9am, and we were off up the little path and into the fields not really knowing what the next three days would bring.

Mile 1 – beep beep, the weather was closing in already, drizzle into rain, mist into fog, cool into cold. I was dressed in shorts, compression socks, Hoka Stinson’s, my ‘trail outlaws Dark Skies Run’ tee (love this tee as its quite long and fits me really well), Ronhill Waterproof and a couple of buffs.

We were carrying all our gear – that is all our clothes and supplies, including leads and power banks, first aid kit, bivy bags, little wash bag, etc etc. Enough food for 1.5 days due to limited ways to refuel en route, and 2 litres of liquid, so there was no wonder the bag felt heavy to start with. Starting off with 5kg without the water or food, it must have weighed a good 8kg.

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already done you will never grow

My ‘food’ supplies for 1.5 days included the obligatory kendal mint cake, chocolate hazelnut popcorn, x2 ham sandwiches, some chicken pieces, m&m’s, some harribos and some muesli bar type things and probably a load of other rubbish stuff and a couple of emergency gels. In hindsight I wish I had taken more ‘real’ food than some of the rubbish sweet stuff that I had on me but more about that later.

The first three miles are quite tame but Jacobs Ladder soon makes up for it, as the ascents began. It’s a great little zig zag up to the Kinder Tops, giving us a taste of more hills later in the game.

Spectacular views of the Edale skyline and valley below beamed up at us in the little ray of cloudy sunshine. The peat troughs and stone slabs were however waiting our footsteps so after a quick chat with a couple of older ladies who were amused by our gear, especially compression socks / calf guards, explaining about ‘twin skin shorts’ we were off again to fight the Kinder Plateau.

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Beyond the trig on Kinder Plateau was unknown but exciting territory for me. We had a different supply of navigational elements with us. I had the Pennine Way book and GPX file loaded on my watch, for John – strip maps and a proper GPX device so we would serve ourselves well.

Over Kinder Downfall we ran, with stunning views of Kinder reservoir peaking out below. Navigation was quite straight forward following the path right around the skyline with just a minor debate at the downfall. Beautiful views spread far and wide despite the typical dull summer weather.

Remember to enjoy the moment remember to look around remember to keep going and be yourself because there is a lot more to explore

A few descents around Kinder left me trailing behind John. I am no good at descending and my choice of shoe the Hoka Stinson 3 were not serving me well. I felt clunky and heavy as I put one foot in front of the other, wishing I had chosen my inov8 ultra’s instead. I felt unstable and unhinged from my feet but that could have been the weight of my rucksack unbalancing me too.

pennine-way_29178589735_o (450x800)Obligatory photo stops for signs along the pathway indicating ‘Snake Pass Inn’ and ‘Bleaklow’ were a must. I love my signs. I don’t do selfies but I do signs.

We were only around 8 miles in and although I felt quite tired already I was immensely grateful to be running in this bleak but beautiful land. Bleak for we were to run into the aptly named ‘Bleaklow’ a few miles ahead.

The rugged narrow millstone pathways gave way to paved slab stones, surrounded by thick bog pits either side. This was the simple life, just a couple of runners footsteps and the sporadic dog walker or hiker here and there. Nothing more.

10 miles in we’d reached the Snake Pass just in time for a manky banana stop. My watch said 10 miles but my paper work said 8 I was already a couple of miles out where did my maths go wrong in adding up the journey? Or was my watch wrong? Who cares really it was all about the journey.


Keep going, one foot in front of the other, millions of times. Face forward and take the next step. Move on.

 

pennine-way_29178599805_o (800x450)The now somewhat familiar slabs of the Pennine Way led us onto the bog holes of Bleaklow and up to Bleaklow Head, one of the highest points on today’s run and described as a ‘panoramic feast’. I wasn’t sure about a feast but it was a good spot to have another snack – as I destroyed one my homemade ham sandwiches on crusty thins. Coat on coat off, one minute it was warm and sticky the next minute the winds would gust around and the rain would splash down. Taking a rain coat off with a big rucksack on was not an easy task.

The long windy descent down Torside towards Crowden for me was hard going, picking my way down the rocky embankments down the narrow pathways. But the scenery was awe-inspiring, the abundance of dazzling purple heather immersed the landscape as far as the eye could see. John was running well and would patiently wait for me at the bottom of any tricky descents. With his Vibram 5 fingers he was nifty on the rocky terrain.

I was far behind, sometimes just picking my way down slowly in my clumsy Hoka’s, lack of grip on the soles, still feeling unbalanced and afraid of falling, the rucksack swaying in the wind. After what felt like eternity, I reached the bottom and looked up to where we had come from. WOW! The glowing hills that our footsteps had just traced radiated right through me. There were no words to describe this.

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Difficult trails often lead to beautiful destinations


Time for another pit stop just before the heavens opened once again and little miss rain coat came out yet again. An easy going gravel pathway led us down to a road towards Torside Reservoir. Our only real navigational error throughout the three days was at the reservoir where we followed a bike onto an ‘easy going trail’ I could see the reservoir on my right knowing we needed to go over it so we had to U turn back and re-find the unmarked Pennine Way markers to get back on track. It didn’t take long before we were indeed back on track and running through lush tree lined trails alongside the reservoir.

We were creeping over my mileage schedule, at 18 miles rather than 16 miles and doubtfulness began to creep into my head. Was I capable of this challenge? I was beginning to feel tired already, lacking energy and really not feeling the love for the those uphills that I so normally love.

There was very little but breathtaking views of moorland after moorland. Bleak at times, nestled in its own beauty. Up and over aptly named Black Hill – a scramble of a climb in places meeting just one woman and her dog. The greyness of the dark skies almost touched the trig point at the top whilst I was feeling rather triggered off myself John waited patiently. The highs and lows of running.

pennine-way_29144990206_o (450x800)The Stone slabs intertwined with rocky pathways which led towards Wessenden and the A635. This was significant as the guidebook said ‘If you are lucky there’s a snack van on the A635’ but we were unlucky and there was no snack van for water. It was not surprising given the somewhat wintery conditions. I was beginning to run dry and getting a little worried. A downhill section over to and round Wessenden Reservoir then took us up again onto more desolate, windswept landscapes. The winds lapped up the water as we ran around the waterways heading towards Diggle.

Onward and upwards – it’s the only way! I had images of the little bit of the route I knew near Diggle and a possible pub stop as my water levels had been reduced to a mere drop. But I got it all very confused in my little brain. The pub was about 1/4 of a mile off route and although visible I had assumed it was elsewhere. My water supplies had diminished, my mini full fat coke bottle had gone way back at Black Hill and my body was draining big style. I tried to get some food down me but each footstep became burdensome, literally as something was burning on my feet, feeling like emerging blisters. The steps became more and more clunky, more and more arduous, I was fatiguing fast faster than the pelting rain. With no water, winds blowing at stupid miles per hour, my head was down fighting the blustering weather and horrendous pouring rain. It felt like 8pm not 5pm or whatever time it was, I had lost track and didn’t care any more. The dark mysterious landscape became my enemy.

It will take time, effort, blood sweat and tears but I will get there


The way had turned into way too many water ways, a complex mix of small stones and rainwater gushing down what was supposed to be the Pennine Way towards the M62 Motorway.  Once again I knew this section from the Calderdale Way I had done a few years ago. All energy had drained from me, my hopes of completing this challenge were nearly thrown over the bridge as we crossed the M62 Motorway bridge. I was hitting a brick wall, bonking big style.

pennine-way_28891133460_o (800x450)The ascent up to Blackstone Edge seemed to go on forever, I was running this in my Ultra 18 months ago yet today I could only take one small step at a time a minute at a time. My body said no, and even the watch said no as it flashed 34 miles at me. I forced more food down but it just wasn’t to be. I wanted to lay down, lay down in the cold windswept landscape and sleep. John on the other hand was dancing over Blackstone edge full of energy. I should have gone with his food choices, veggie sausage rolls and sandwiches and more water.

It pains me to continue it hurts much more to stop

My watch said 35 miles I had estimated today’s run at around 36 miles in total but I had obviously underestimated it big style as we were a good 5 or so miles from Mankinholes – home for the night. There was no way I was going to make 5 more miles. I staggered down the hill slowly as if I was drunk, admitting defeat in my head and then out loud. I felt withdrawn and frustrated – had I taken on too much too soon?

There is a difference between giving up and knowing you have had enough

I knew for sure that there was a pub – ‘The White House’ just down the road from where we were, regardless of mileage on the watch – and unless it was derelict we were finally ‘safe’. As we got closer and closer to the pub I was so relived to see cars parked outside it. It was open!

The pub door greeted us with open arms. We found the nearest table and I slumped down into the chair whilst John kindly ordered tea and tap water to replenish my body. I swiftly got changed out of my sodden running gear feeling very sorry for myself and for John letting him down, contemplating my stupid idea of trying to run 108 miles in 3 days.

The tea arrived swiftly, a cup of tea had never tasted so good. Dry clothes had never felt so good, tap water had never tasted so good. Soup arrived, minestrone soup and bread – soup had never tasted so good. I was beginning to feel human again. Slowly but surely. More tea was ordered to make me feel even more human as we contemplated what to do next. If I can’t even make 36 miles how was I going to make another 70? Of course more tea and food was the answer.

Gerritetten – (Eat up all the food)

Delving into some delicious Lasange I fully perked up. It was dark and blustery outside despite only being 7.30pm. No way were were going to be running another 5 miles to ‘home’ for the night. But the challenge wasn’t over there was always another day and that day was called ‘tomorrow’. The watch said 35.6 miles – my estimation had been 36 miles, we were about 4 or 5 miles out but so what. A taxi it was to our home the lovely YHA at Mankinholes. I would not see this as a failure but just a blip.

Keep your dream in front of you. Never let it go regardless of how far-fetched it might seem. – Hal Higdon

The quirky Mankinholes YHA was found by Mr Taxi Man. The owners instantly made us feel very welcome showing us the essentials; the dry room, the showers and our dorms. All wet gear went straight into the dry room, all our wet cold bodies went into the showers and all our tired legs and head went into the beds. It was that simple. Night night day 1.


Day 1: Edale to Mankinholes Breakdown

map1

Edale Start
Kinder Downfall 5
A57 10 icon-road
Bleaklow Head 12.5  2076 feet mountain
Crowden 17
Black Hill 21 1908 feet mountain
A635 22 Little white snack van foodicon2
Wessenden Reservoir 24 res-icon
Standedge (A62) 27 icon-road
M62 Crossing 33 icon-road
Blackstone Edge 35 White House Pub foodicon2
1594 feet mountain
Warland Reservoir 37 res-icon
Mankinholes 40 Mankinholes YHA bedicon

Day 2 – Mankinholes to Malham (Circa 38-40 miles)

I woke up the next morning feeling distinctly ready to conquer the day. No real stiffness no real tiredness but really raring to go. But first there was breakfast. I had carried a couple of packets of porridge with me from Edale and some protein powder and I was going to make the most of carrying these goodies for 36 miles. So 2 lots of breakfasts were made and guzzled down my throat. With free tea and milk at the hostel it made the perfect pre-day-2 breakfast. All fuelled up and ready to go. Next stop Malham around 38-40 miles later. Lets do this!

You can always do more than you think you can don’t be afraid to push yourself

Today’s weather forecast was much better, a delightfully mild air temperature with as of yet no rain – hurrah! I was kitted up this time in my 3/4 skins but with the same tee as the day before. The rucksack was once again quite heavy with water but this time I knew there were stops post 22 miles in at various little villages with pubs en route and a co-op around 32 miles in if it was open on a Sunday evening. I was looking forward to stocking up on some real food.

pennine-way_29178777375_o (450x800)The first Monmouth task was a mile or so climb out of Mankinholes to rejoin the Pennine Way near to Stoodly Pike. We contemplated the previous nights decision and realised it was the best decision to have made however disappointment to have missed out that little section.

There are many paths but only one journey

Engaging the downhill section towards Hebdon bridge I was skipping through the lush landscape admiring the surrounding hillage. There was of course an obligatory stop for a few sign pictures and a moo picture because the cow looked rather cute and bewildered by the runners passing by.

The route took us down a wide pathway, but we weren’t too sure if it was the correct way. My watch line was showing straight down but John had dropped his strip-map to double check. Pause the Suunto – U turn back. He went back to see if he could find it whilst I dug out the book and the paper routes to double check. We were on the Pennine Bridal way but the actual Pennine Way we think descended down into the woods. However we were only a few 100 metres off track so continued down the bridal way to re-join the route and all was good by the time we reached the road.

The Pennine Way is a beautiful thing
In summer, autumn, winter, spring
As the clouds dance across the Pennine sky
And the wild birds wheel past the walker’s eye.

Ian McMillan

pennine-way_28890963450_o (800x450)What goes down has to go up again. We once again climbed up passing a Wainwright sign – options options – a preferred wainwright route or the other route? The route we took whichever on it was lead us past some homemade jam offering – I was tempted but my rucksack weighed enough.

Once back on track we entered more moorland. The ground sodden with the previous days’ rain, squelching through the dripping grass, tripping through streams hiding the pathways deep below.

img_20160822_202035jpg_29145160116_o (800x450)The pure beauty of the moorland reaching far and wide with just one man and his dog out on a Sunday morning walk for company. At times the path would get a little lost as we jumped over tussocks of moorland at other times there would be the odd slab stone section to open up on. Miles and miles of beautiful heather and moorland across Heptonstall Moor stretched forever wide with the wind whispering quietly. This was stunning and I was on a roll, happy and simply relaxed.

Be who you want to be love how you want to love run how you want to run

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Round the some what monotonous Walshaw Dean Reservoirs introduced us to some flat sections. But the flats weren’t to last as again the way markers directed us to climb up towards Haworth Moors, land of Bronte and Wuthering Heights. Forever in its beauty.

I have dreamt in my life, Dreams that have stayed with me ever after and changed my ideas, they have gone through and through me like wine through water and altered the colour of my mind – Emily Bronte

Round the glazing bronte country we ran, it became a bit of a highway – a mere few sunday visitors that was all, but having run all this way more or less just seeing one man and his dog it felt a bit like a highway. Leaving the Sunday morning day trippers behind we Dropped down into the valley with a slightly wrong turning, to hit a small section of tarmac into the little area of Pondon. I was still feeling alive and well and demolished some bread sticky things.

I am just going to

write

run because I can not help it – Charlotte Bronte

The next section took us onto Ickonshaw Moor – more bleak beauty with a mix of flagstones and boggy peat dunking all nestled in dreamy landscape following the pathways through the contours. I was in my heaven I was running well.

Running is freedom to be me

The first water stop of the day I had marked on at Cowling village round about 23 miles – and spot on I was today. Once in the village we searched our maps for the pub but it wasn’t that clear. A couple of locals with their friendly dogs passed, we asked directions to the local pub for ‘water stockage’. They they kindly offered to fill up our water bottles as the pub was apparently a mile or so out of town. This gesture suited us nicely, eternally grateful for the kindness which sent us on our way up Cowling hill.

Just a couple of miles up Cowling Hill and crossing a few fields to the next village at Lothersdale where there was a pub bang  ‘en route’ and more importantly they were open. Even more importantly they served tea and crisps and sandwiches and tap water. It didn’t take long for us to settle down with our tea, sandwiches, tap water and crisps taking some time out to relax and contemplate how far we had come. (not how far we had to go) We were more than half way there now in more ways than one. What a fantastic feeling.

There are no shortcuts to endurance, you have to train yourself to make peace with the long route every day and do it and love where it it taking you

pennine-way_29072456672_o (800x450)Once we had drunk the teapot dry, it was time to say goodbye to Lothernsdale and the teapot and get those legs moving again. Through some more hilly farmland we passed one fell runner speeding down the hill with just his club vest on. The late afternoon moorland was beautifully gleaming and beckoning us further up onto open moorland. A nice steady climb up to the trigg point and across Elsack moor made for a perfect late Sunday afternoon run. I could see why that fell runner was having the time of his life up here.

My feet have several thousand meetings scheduled with teh dirt on the pennine way not far from here, who am I to keep them waiting – Dickenson

The hills were almost over for today as we dropped down the valley into the little village of Thornton in Craven. Wainwright had desribed the next section as ‘mostly muck and manure’ and he wasn’t far from wrong either with plenty of it about inclusive of the smells. There were more lush green meadows to run down, and we were both feeling remarkably good at this point. 30 plus miles in. Stiles and little pathways kept us on our toes.

pennine-way_28891101220_o (800x450)A little section on the Leeds to Liverpool canal reintrouced us to ‘flatland’ with brightly coloured barges and bridges galour. The flat monotoany of the canal was a bit of a shock after all the hills, how anyone can do an Ultra on a canal is beyond me, and it was a relief to come off the canal back into velvet green fields.

Everyone we had passed throughout the journey were so friendly. We bumped into a group of older guys who were walking to Garsgrave, we told them our story so far, and got on our way – destination SHOP at Garsgrave but not ‘our’ home for the night. We had an extra few miles to tread.

We arrived happily at the quintessentially English looking Garsgrave, across a cute bridge and into the little village centre. There on the main road gleamed a very open Co-op. Although we were covered in cow patted shoes and probably smelt like we hadn’t washed for weeks we ventured into the very open shop to stock up on food for the following day. Pre-packed egg sandwiches and for me chocolate milk; one to drink now and one for later. I also went for the pork pies, if they were good enough for Ring O Fire two years ago they were good enough for this. Other stock included some jaffa cakes oh jaffa cakes oh jaffa cakes and a nakd bar (paying full price for a nakd bar WTF!). So with all our goodies our rucksacks now weighed even more but we were ready for the following days’ challenge where there would only be the Pen-y-ghent Cafe en route.

Just another 5.75 miles to Malham the sign said in Garsgrave, thats less than an 10km race.The evening sun was setting and even the sheep and cows looked at us oddly as we crept along the fields one foot at a time following the fingerposts of the Pennine Way. The path climbed a gentle grassy hill but with 70ish miles in our legs it felt a little more than a hill.

Following the river Aire it was getting dusky and I contemplated getting out the headtorch. From here onwards it would be mostly flat but still technical enough to have to concentrate. I could feel myself slowly seeping of energy again. I had enough to eat this time and still had plenty of water, but decided to scoff down my chocolate coated popcorn just to keep me going. We were only 2 miles from ‘home’ but those two miles along the bankings of the river Aire felt forever. The rain started hammering down again and I needed a wee. One foot infront of the other that’s all it takes, one raindrop after another is all it takes, splish splash through the puddles is all it takes, taking in the soaking grassland and trying to avoid the boggy bogpits. We were so near the finish yet it felt so far away. I was not to give up again. Not now.

Giving up is always an option but never my choice

I had a good talking to myself took on some more water and popcorn and got moving again. It was all in the head. No more bonking. We were literally less than a mile from ‘home’ for the night, I could do this. Yes I had run 37 miles but beautiful Malham with its limestone characters was visually now in view in reachable distance. A little undulation up and down the banking of the river path, round some flooded kissing gates and finally into civilisation we ran. A proper little pathway right into the centre of the village of Malham finished us off. We had made it – over 38 miles today.

Sometimes its hard sometimes its not, it’a supposed to be hard its the hard that makes it great

pennine-way_28559237993_o (800x331)The YHA at Malham was in a perfect setting, a perfect dry room, kitchen with fridge for our perfect food stocks, nice large dorm rooms for our perfect nights’ sleep and perfectly warm showers. More so the pub was just next door. We opted to pay for breakfast for the morning so we could fuel ourselves properly as all our porridge sachets had all but burned away many many miles away.

To the pub we went just in the nick of time. I managed to devour a whole plate of fish and chips. If Fish and Chips are good enough for Nicky Spinks’ double Bob Graham they are good enough for my little challenge too even though I don’t normally like Fish and Chips, I needed carbs, salt and something junky. Yummy.

And then to bed. Once again there was just one other woman in my spacious dorm, and I slept really well, not particuarly aching just a little ‘tired’. I was happy but tired but smiling as I listened effortlessly to the rain beating down.

Don’t deny yourself an extraordinary trip


Day 2: Mankinholes to Malham – Breakdown

map2

Mankinholes Start
Stoodley Pike 3.1 1300 feet mountain
A646 5 icon-road
Walshaw Dean Reservoir 12 res-icon
Ponden 16
Cowling 21 Village Shop and Pub shop foodicon2
Lothersdale 24 Pub foodicon2
Thornton in Craven 28 Pub foodicon2
Gargrave 32 Co-op Shop and Pub shop foodicon2
Malham 38 END OF DAY 2: 38.5 miles bedicon

Day 3: Malham to Hawes (Circa 27-29 miles)

I woke up to the same noise as I went to bed with – the rain pounding down on the limestone landscape. I looked out of the window to be greeted with picturesque views of fog. It’s only weather after all and skin is waterproof, right?

Number one stop; the dry room to collect our dry kit, and as it said on the tin, (or the doorway) our kit was dry. Number two stop, breakfast. A delightful offering from the YHA, with choice of bread for toast with jams, honey and marmalade, enough cups of tea to serve us both for more than 3 days, and a choice of hot cooked sausages, beans, bacon, eggs, tomatoes. I opted for a bit of scrambled egg and a couple of sausages. I never eat sausages but this was not never this was fuel for the next 29 miles.

It was 9am and time to depart from Malham YHA. Dressed in yesterdays skins but treating myself to my only clean trail top, sheltered by my waterproof. The buffs were out in force again which meant go.

pennine-way_29100381631_o (800x450)Within half a mile of setting off we were stopped in our tracks. A herd of cows – an expert in their field of blocking the path for strange tourists running up the valley. With a bit of moo’vement we eventually we managed to get to the udder side of the herd, and ran along the easy limestone pathway towards Malham Cove.

A weighty climb to the limestone pavement at the top welcomed us with unrecognisable views of the beautiful Yorkshire Dales.


pennine-way_28559243353_o (800x418)The Pennine Way was to cut through this incredible landscape somewhere but the slippery paving slab stones were not playing game with us and we managed to get ‘mini lost’ chasing the limestone pavements.  With our devices we homed in on the official Pennine Way path and rejoined it just as the rain took flight once again.

The route was slippy, unsteady on my feet as I negotiated the limestone outlets and sodden tufts of grass. The grassy parts were so waterlogged it was like running upstream. I now name this Pennine Way the Pennine Waterway.

Within just a few miles we had hit the desolate Malham Tarn; making it the highest lake in England and probably the wettest today. This wet and soggy morning just required some perserverance, sweating it out in my waterproofs as I battled around the tarn into a woodland. It’s really hard to go for a pee when it is lashing it down but sometimes it just has to be done and it wasn’t the last one of the day in such appauling conditions either.

 

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Even the sheep were sheltering under the dry stone walls watching as we baa’rged past them. No shelter for the wicked. The hills upfront were draped in thick blankets of mist, who knew where the tops were? We ploughed through more waterlogged fields. I was loving every horrible minute of this. It was all part of the adventure. The delicate fields opened up onto the hilltops and it was time for fuel. I dug deep into my pockets to revival my Pork Pies. Remember I don’t even like Pork Pies but they provide fat, carbs and protein basically real food energy and i hate to admit it but it felt good to eat a pork pie at 10.30 am in the morning. Yuk! But it would serve me well up the deceptively tough Fountains Fell.

It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.

pennine-way_29072508832_o (800x450)My body was beginning to chill, so far despite the horrendous wet conditions I had felt quite warm, but now as we climbed I could feel the air temperature dropping and I was beginning to shake a little inside. I had options; continue to move or stop to fish out my merino wool top and get even colder and wetter whilst I faffed around. I decided the former option was the most sensible and continued to put one wet foot into another puddle followed by another wet foot into another puddle.


The majestic views of the Yorkshire Dales were draped in a blanket of miserable fog so much so that the top just could not be seen, false summit after false summit came and went as we conquered Fountains Fell. Finally we reached the top as the peculiar cairn stood laughing at us in all its glory. But my bladder had other thoughts – what better way to go for a wee than on top of Fountains Fell in uncomprehendable gusts of wind and torrential rain. Really.

The path meandered around the summit then dropped back down. Here we met up with a couple of other people heading the other way. We exchanged a polite ‘good morning’ and drenched our way down the fell. Confronted with a rather large ‘waterfall’ gushing from the edge of the fell I needed a helping hand over the slippery rock face.

Even at the bottom the little country lane and its cattle grid was flooded. It all felt quite surreal, peaceful, in harmony with the limestone splendour.

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But we had yet not finished the ascent, for of course there was Pen-y-ghent to climb at nearly 700 metres. The rain eased for all of about 10 minutes giving us a breather to refuel – more pork pies anyone? Excuse me if I may.

It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves – Sir Edmund Hilary

One thing for sure was that we were not going to have to negotiate the hordes of tourists, just bumping into two other people as we negotiated the scree around half way up the Peak. I was struggling a little at this point, scree climbing isn’t really my forte. John had taken advantage of his skyline experience and sailed up the scree with ease, but probably frozen at the top whilst waiting for me. Visibility was at a minimum and although the rain had eased the bitter winds were doing their best to ensure the weather would not be kind to us today. Although I had climbed the Peak before I forgot that after the scree climbing there was a monster of a slab pathway going in only one direction, up. The arduous climb had nothing to do with having 80 plus miles in my legs oh no!

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Finally reaching the summit we had it all to ourselves, not another soul in sight. Not even a sheep. The winds were howling around the trig. I managed a quick photo and then an even quicker descent off the peak down into the valley towards Horton in Ribblesdale.


pennine-way_29072527182_o (800x450)I had a burst of energy down the peak and I ran and ran and ran down the windy gritty footpath, laughing to myself, smiling, jumping, hopping and skipping until I stopped.

I only stopped due to a ‘river’ of water blocking my right of way right across the Pennine Way. What an adventure and a half. And just a mile and a half to the infamous Pen-y-ghent cafe and a pint of tea to go so there was no option but just just run straight through the ‘river’.

Find your limits and cross them

pennine-way_29072574262_o (450x800)And there it was in all its glory – the Pen-y-ghent Cafe, and most importantly a pint of tea along side some warm sandwiches. Although my skin is allegedly waterproof the rain and wind had penetrated through my skin and and a change of clothes was a must to make myself human again. The pleasure of putting on dirty but dry shorts and my somewhat smelly tee I had worn the previous two days felt like velvet on my skin. Don’t you just love running? Tourists entered the cafe, telling us stories that their cars had been flooded and the roads were blocked due to the immensity of water. Oh don’t you just love British Summertime?

After a hearty pit stop it was time to break the final 15 miles of the adventure. Just 15 miles that was all. We had done over 90 miles now and although the legs were feeling a little lethargic we were both in good spirits.


The last section had been described as easily navigable following the old pack-horse trail and roman road up out of Horton on Ribblesdale. The rain had finally eased and there was a small glimpse of sunshine. We both took it in turns to have our own bursts of running, one of us taking the lead when we felt strong then the other as we both went through our own good and bad patches at different times.

Beautiful hills began to emerge and we could just pinpoint the Ribblehead Viaduct – one of Yorkshire’s most distinctive landmarks alongside Ingleborough – another of the 3 Yorkshire Peaks, peaking out of the low lying cloud.

But the hills and the dales and the highways and the trails – Peter Combe


The packhorse trail welcomed us with gentle ascents and descents once again I was in my own happy place, one foot in front of the other, surrounded by stunning views, oh so simple. I could run without my raincoat for the first time all day. Hurrah! The typical ‘Dales’ countryside spread far and wide, taking in every single running step. The white washed walls breaking up the lush green fields and towering in the distance the beautifully bleak fells of Cam Fell and Dodd Fell which would eventually lead us into Hawes.

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I had a small moment where my energy levels seaped away but nothing that a few jaffa cakes couldn’t solve. Oh Jaffa Cakes you are my friend and I was soon back on the Packhorse Trail running up that hill to what felt like nowhere.

Nowhere is my somewhere – fuelrunning


We bumped into another humanoid out for a cycle, who informed us he was a little lost. John with his strip maps soon sorted him out whilst I did my deeds and went for another wee. 20p to go to the toilet at the train station yet this was free – stunning views overlooking nothing but mountainous hills baked in afternoon sunshine. The dense grey clouds of just a few hours ago had all but been erased and in its place had been painted little white fluffy clouds surrounded by delicate shade of blue. What a way to end 103 plus miles.


pennine-way_28891066350_o (800x372)The wide gritty trail meandered around the top of Dodd Fell. Everything was coming together nicely, until I had a bit of a stumble. I lost concentration in my own thoughts and failed to send that message to my brain to not trip over rocky outlets. I just about managed to re-balance myself as I stupidly let out a bit of a scream. Well that stopped me in my tracks. Composing myself I decided it was time for a last bit of energy just to get me through those last few miles.

 

No one can defeat me unless I first defeat myself


pennine-way_29100361711_o (800x450) A vague path into Hawes made a pleasant change to the roman road. Just a few miles to go as the little town of Hawes appeared out of nowhere. Nestled deep down in the valley – 2 or 3 miles away. The vague path had me thinking to whether it was the correct route but double checking with John and my watch we were indeed still on the somewhat indistinct Pennine Way.

A wave of emotion came over me as I kept running down the hill, I knew now we had done it, we were almost there. I danced down the fields, down the little rabbit paths and straight through the sloshy mud no pussy footing around. My feet were burning and my big toe nail was rubbing against my shoe, but I didn’t care. Hawes was getting closer and closer and one of my running ambitions was about to be almost completed.

What a stunning setting, hills beautiful hills, the little village of Hawes radiating in the distance beckoning us down the hill. A somewhat tricky section down into a couple of fields threw me, as my body leaked energy again and for a moment there I got stuck in the mud – literally. I just stood there my feet soaked in cow pat and contemplated my next step. But my feet wouldn’t budge, my body wouldn’t budge. I stood there and laughed. Hawes was a mere mile away yet here I was stuck to the ground. Yet again so near yet so close. Not another bonk no, not this close. I dug deep into my side pockets and took out an 8p packet of harribos – probably far to late to give me any energy but enough to distract me from the stillness and enough to get my brain to move my legs down onto the road.


pennine-way_28556648804_o (800x450)The distraction worked and we were on the road (yes I said road!) into Hawes. I glanced at my watch 5.53pm – we had 7 minutes, I don’t know why I thought that but I wanted to make it into Hawes for 6pm just because we could. Whilst crossing a typical Dales looking field, a local old gentleman commented on how we looked, too far too far he exclaimed when we told him we’d ran over 100 miles. Too far.

The final stretch took us around some houses onto the main road. We had made it into the village for 6pm, but there was just another 1/4 of a mile to go to get right to the high street meandering around the back of the cheese factory. We both ran because we could, bang smack into Hawes. No crowds to cheer us in, no finish line arch, no medal, no goodie bag, no silly power of 10 or Run Britain rankings, just the pure sense of achievement of running over 100 miles with over 16000 feet of climb from Edale to Hawes in 3 days. We had done it! (Minus those ugly 5 miles)

John informed me that we had actually completed the Spine Challenge in the cut off times, that is 60 hours with 3 hours to spare. OK we were officially 4 or 5 miles down but with pub grub and a good 7 or 8 hours sleep a night including breakfast and some good pit stop lunches we had completed the route in the cut off times. Even adding the extra 5 miles I am certain we would have made the 60 hours – even though that wasn’t even the goal at the start it just added the cranberry to the Wendsleydale Cheese.


Running is not all about time but about our experiences along the way

Ipennine-way_29178695105_o (655x800)n typical running style after congratulating each other we took off our shoes and congratulated our feet by checking out the damage. Apart from 2 very weird deep grooves in my feet and a blood blister under my large big toe I had come away quite unscarved. Remarkable really. John was the same, a couple of minor scrapes but for over 100 miles both our feet had done remarkably well.

We then congratulated our thirst with a proper cup of Yorkshire tea served in a Hawes mug, and I finished off my Jaffa Cakes just because I could. A more than welcomed hot soaking shower followed by a perfectly placed pub meal just down the road topped up the three days perfectly.

Well that’s one way to visit Hawes – running it from Edale over three days in over 100 miles. Had it sunk in? Not yet!

 


 Day 3: Malham to Hawes – Breakdown

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Malham Start
Malham Tarn 3 1237 feet mountain
Pen-y-ghent (Top) 11 2277 feet mountain
Hornton in Ribblesdale 15 Cafe at the bottom of Pen-y-ghent foodicon2
Cam Fell 21 1870 feet mountain
Dodd Fell 24
Hawes 28.5 Finish! bedicon

The day after

pennine-way_28556482894_o (450x800)The day after the sun was blazing down. A delightful 4 hour journey back to Sheffield began at 9.30am. The little white bus took us the half hour journey to Garsedale train station – deliberately there to meet the 10.02am train to Leeds.

In our waiting for the train we were entertained by a little red squirrel running across the track and back.

The train arrived on time, the picturesque Settle to Carlise train journey with the stunning views of the Dales and the surrounding peaks baked in endless blue skies, passing over Ribbleshead Viaduct with a cup of tea in hand contemplating our journey and discussing what may be feasible next.

What a brilliant 3 days with great support and company. Yes a couple of mistakes made on my behalf, inaccurate timings, bonking, and failing that last 5 miles on day 1, but completing the rest made up for it.


As for the Spine Challenge itself I will leave that to the hardcore runners who want to battle the brutal winter weather, the brutal August weather was enough for me and my little body.

Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try

What’s next?…


Ascent and Descent

Journey Ascent in feet Descent in feet
Edale to Crowden – Day 1 2430 2560
Crowden to Standedge – Day 1 2165 1575
Standedge to Calder Valley – Day 1 1150 2100
Calder Valley to Ickornshaw- Day 2 2885 2490
Ickornshaw to Malham – Day 2 2360 1970
Malham to Horton in Ribblesdale – Day 3 2660 2560
Horton in Ribblesdale to Hawes – Day 3 1760 1727

 

 


Top 10 Lessons Learned

1. A small teacake with peanut butter is not enough for Breakfast to be sustainable for 36 plus miles on day one. Eat all the Porridge!
2. Do not underestimate the power of ‘tapering’ or ‘resting’ the week before.
3. Carry more water for 36 plus miles or experiment with purification tablets for streams
4. Don’t carry unnecessary kit. Could I have carried less? I could have given up my foil blanket give I had my bivy bag, did I really need deodorant, shower gel and soap – not really.
4. Carry more ‘real’ food – Pork Pies however disgusting work well. Eat what you would on Ultras, do not skimp
5. Think about the type of gear to wear, I could have taken a different pair of shorts that weighed less. I could have gotten away with one bra and less underwear – yes I went luxury and could have washed through. The rest of the gear was spot on.
6. The rucksack was far from ideal, I was unable to get to water easily without help or having a mini bottle in my waterproof pocket. Next time I would either invest in a 12 litre vest or try and get everything into my 8 litre vest. I did attempt this but it was just far too packed out. Otherwise use a waist belt too for easy access to drink
7. Choose your shoe choice well, I may have been better with more grippy shoes, invo8 vs Hokas
8. Tape up any sore bits or niggles before they get too sore. Feet felt wrecked but did not tape or vaseline up on day 3.
9. Take a look at light weight kit especially electronics, a multifunctional plug and if I had the money a watch with a better battery life
10. Check and double check milage itinaries so there is no false sense of security. Probably my biggest mistake

 Recovery

I have recovered well after a weeks’ rest. A Tai Chi come Pilates session and a good pool swim a few days later set me up nicely for my first small run a week later. Icing the calfs which had retained too much liquid and using compression at night helped  the steady recovery. Eating lots of food, listening to the body and relaxing where possible. Writing about my adventures has made it seem much more ‘real’ rather than just a distant dream of yesterday. That’s if you got this far.

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