Calderdale Hike – 37 Miles
On the Sunday prior to this I was meant to run a 25 mile event on my doorstep on Blubberhouses Moor. Having put out my kit, eaten my fill of carbohydrate and set my sights on improved hydration following the previous week’s Hardmoors mistakes, I turned off the TV and made my way to bed. On the way up, I stubbed my little toe on the spare bed I’d just assembled for my girlfriend’s mates following their night out. The force of this collision brought me to the floor, rendered me immobile, and allowed me a good minute of agony in which to recite every expletive I had not used since pulling out of Hardmoors 55 a week earlier.
Nonetheless, it was just a bashed toe. I went to bed confident that it would be fine by morning.
I got up thirty minutes early, noted that my little toe was the size of my big toe, went for a jog on the Stray outside my house, and confirmed that I could not run. Oh, for fu…
The Calderdale Hike thus brought into focus the need both to start and finish a race. On Saturday morning, with my left little toe still under the influence of a form of giganticism, I strapped it up, stuffed it into some socks, loosely attached trainers over the top and hoped for the best. I drove down the M62 to Sowerby Bridge and arrived in the area about 7.50am. Which was good, because it took me another 25 minutes to find the actual start at Sowerby CC, and it enabled me to discover from various dog-walking locals that Sowerby is actually pronounced Saw-B. I found the start, kit checked, sat in the sun and set off.
The Calderdale Hike requires you to navigate your way from one checkpoint to the next by whichever route you deem fit. This presents you with the unusual sight throughout the day of people disappearing and appearing from a multitude of directions, most notably at the start where after the race organiser shouted ‘Go!’, a third of the field promptly turned around and went off in a different direction to the one in which we’d all been facing. Being easily led, I found myself following the larger group and hoped this didn’t have any damning implications for my wider psychological make up, whilst musing as the other runners reappeared minutes later, that shaving seconds off the start of a race like this was a bit like throwing a deckchair off the Titanic. I soon found myself on familiar terrain from the short Hebden race I did earlier in the year and – reassuringly - found I was enjoying myself in the morning sunshine. After the Checkpoint at Crow Hill Nook I came across the engaging sight of two mares being ridden powerfully across the open moorland, which reminded me that I (a) needed to keep my foot down if Iwas (b ) to get back in time for the Grand National.
With my broken little toe I could only put weight through the right side of my foot, which wasn’t a problem on the flat, but instantly became a real struggle when the terrain I was treading fell away in all directions with no predictable pattern, i.e. on moorland. So I did the best I could but watched everyone else fly by. At one point I rolled my foot about three times in a minute and started to worry, but bad things come in threes, it seems, and I didn’t do it again all day. The checkpoints came and went, some with jellybabies, some without. Every time I reached inside my bumbag for snickers, electrolytes or gels I was greeted with the sight of my betting slips from William Hill, which come 4.20 today were going to pay for my petrol back to Harrogate. By the time I’d reached Holme Chapel, getting back in time for the Grand National (put another way – a 7hr 20min finish) was looking realisitic. This was, of course, the confidence of a man who hadn’t paid too much attention to the South Pennines map he had bought less than 24 hours before and who had failed to consider the implications of getting up and down Thieveley Pike on a hot afternoon with a poorly foot. It took forever.
As I tried to loosen up the legs as I left the Pike, a chap called Steve with whom I’d been criss-crossing paths all day caught up and we got to chatting. Steve knew where he was going and sherpered me along the next 4 or 5 miles. Coming across some fine downhills on which to claw back time, my spirits soared, only to plummet again as my subprime toe stubbornly refused to go along for the ride and reduced my gallop to an ungainly stumble towards Foulclough Road and thence Dean Royd Bridges. As we arrived into the checkpoint, we caught the tail end of a display of outrage from a formidable lady of advanced years who was berating the checkpoint volunteers for allowing a steady stream of competitors to use her garden as part of the route. As it was like a scene from Last of The Summer Wine (minus three men rolling down the hillside in a bath) I found this quite amusing, although I readily ackowledge that it is probably annoying to have hundreds of sunburnt nutters in Lycra motoring through your garden all afternoon. Taking great care not to use her garden, Steve and I set off again towards Lumbutts. By now I’d held Steve back for long enoug, so he sailed off into the distance.
I was still clinging to the notion I might get back for the Grand National, but on the ascent up Stoodley Pike even this aspiration finally left me - I was still 6 miles from the finish. Instead I started talking to someone called Sarah, who, it transpired 500 metres later, knew my sister’s boyfriend, is also from Harrogate and is also doing Hardmoors 110. We’d been aware of each other at races for a while, but had never actually met and so got to talking about lift sharing to future events and our Hardmoors 110 preparation. Hers has been better than mine! Engaged in this chit chat, we reached the top. Again, the subsequent descent was too much for my foot and I trundled in an ungainly manner down to the penultimate checkpoint at Withins Clough Resevoir. Sarah motored on ahead here, whilst I got properly lost for the first time since breakfast. I did, however, have a nice chat with a couple buying a house.
When I’d finished spending a needless extra twenty minutes trying to get up to Shaw’s Lane, I valiantly tried to claw back what time I could in the final two miles of downhill. To onlookers this would have looked like a sunburnt man with tattoos hopping down a country lane with a bumbag on his shoulder. It felt like sprinting to me. Eventually I reached the cricket club where hot food, shade and the winner of the National awaited me. I did the Hardmoors 30 on New Years Day in 5.30 with about 8000 feet of ascent. I did the Calderdale Hike with an almost identical climb but 6 extra miles in 8 hours 30. What a slow down. But it was getting around that mattered today and what a sense of satisfaction. With the last couple of runs so frustrating, it felt great just to get out there, complete it and remind myself that it is the finishing that is really important.
As I sat down with my baked potato I reached inside my bumbag to try and find my bet slip from William Hill. I rummaged and rummaged, but to no avail. It began to dawn that it had probably gone in the bin at a checkpoint with a used gel wrapper. At which point I went from imagining Chief Dan George clearing up and gloriously disposing of the field with a furlong to go, to hoping that, like me, he’d forgotten his racing hooves today and was happily munching hay in the stable, oblivious to the glory of coming in first.
Please have a look at Nick Ham’s pictures of the day here.