Me – “Well I’ve got to get a long one in sometime, it’s in my ‘marathon plan’ for Manchester. What do you reckon?” “I know, let’s do the Hobble, it’s a 32 miler in Bronte country. I did it back in the day and actually came 26th in 5 and a half hours – you impressed?”
Naz – “no, what’s it like? Anything like the White Rose?”
Me – “nothing like the White Rose, it’s relatively flat and most of it’s on runnable track”
Naz – “I’ll enter us as a team, that ok?”
Me – “yep, do it. I’ll see if Longstaff’s up for it too”
Naz – “I’ll sort accommodation, we’ll treat it as a day out in the hills and countryside”
One week before the event, Mr Longstaff ruled himself out – sciatica! We managed to kid Paul Walters, an old University friend of mine, an exSaltwell (for 3 months) and now of Derwent Valley Trail Runners into joining us. The plan was to run round together as a team of three!
The evening before the event, Naz and myself checked into our accommodation – a clean, simple Guest house situated half way up the picturesque cobbled Haworth high street, 100 yards away from tomorrow’s start line. We spent the evening in the Fleece Inn where we were joined by Paul and I got myself acquainted to the Landlord. I think his name was Timothy Taylor! To irritate Naz, Paul and I ordered the gammon steak (with pineapple AND fried egg Peter) and Naz had the halal scampi – good wholesome pre-race food, NOT! Three pints later we decided to be sensible and take an early night, after all we had to be at registration in seven hours time.
Six o’clock the alarm sounds. Time to pack bags, get dressed (Naz insisted on packing his bag in his pants for some unknown reason, probably a cultural thing!) and perform bowel evacuation procedures. Making sure the remnants of my room mates large intestine (from the evening before) had finally escaped (it was a Friday night four flusher), I dared to enter the ensuite to apply my waterproof mascara. I wasn’t going to win this race but I was certainly going to look good! We met Paul at the event HQ at 06:30hrs, registered, then went back to the hotel for our cereal, tea and toast.
After the obligatory selfie at the start at 08:00hrs, the mass of runners in front of us started to move slowly up the cobbled street. It appears we had started. Paul looked around for somewhere to have a last minute nervous wee. He couldn’t find anywhere, he’d have to wait until we hit the countryside. The weather wasn’t brilliant. It was wet, that fine rain that soaks you immediately, but on the plus side, it wasn’t windy and was relatively warm. Out of the village and onto the moors, we started to overtake fellow competitors until we reached that position in the race where we would probably remain for the rest of the event, about three quarters through the field.
We lost Paul immediately as nature called. The first points of interest were the beautiful Bronte waterfalls and bridge. From the bridge, and signposted in Japanese, we came across Top Withens, an old building in the middle of nowhere. Heathcliff and Cathy weren’t in! The first checkpoint came and went at about the 7 mile point. There, we refuelled with provided broken biscuits from a car boot and refilled our water bottles. To this point it felt that there had been little height gained apart from the climb up Haworth Front street (although we had actually done about 750 feet accent) however that was all about to change. The next bit was in full view ahead of us, we could actually see the path ahead going up and up.
Luckily the ground under foot was quite firm being made up of red gravel. In the distance and nearing the top of this particular hill was a green JCB digger. As we got closer it was apparent that it was laying large flag stones at an attempt of improving the path for the vast amount of tourists who visit the area. In my opinion, the huge, even sided, uniform squared ‘natural’ slabs take something away from the character of the place but I suppose they’re a necessity due to the wear and tear from the massive amount of footfall experienced. Moving now as a threesome, (Paul caught us up after another wee stop!), himself, myself and Naz covered the next 5 or 6 miles relatively quickly passing by the sides of reservoirs, running over dams and squelching through mud and melting snow, each keeping the others motivated and in good spirits.
Thirteen’ish miles in saw the next landmark or landmarks. We heard them before seeing them. There was an eerie atmospheric pulsating dull noise coming out of the blanket of mist. We could only partly see one giant wind turbine with its blades flying around but was aware of tens of others contributing to the harmonious drone. This short busy road section soon turned back into track, mud, slush and ice cold puddles. Halfway was approaching. I’d informed the lads that, ‘back in the day’ there was always a farm outhouse where hot dogs were served! We weren’t disappointed. The buildings had gone but thankfully had been replaced by a campervan. Hot dogs, meat and/or vegetarian (sausages skewered by the same fork Naz later pointed out!), mustard, ketchup, brown sauce, carrot based veg soup, liquorice tea, proper tea, coffee, sausage rolls, biscuits and Jaffa cakes were all on offer and all for free. Naturally we spent a few minutes here replenishing our reserves and a few minutes more waiting for Paul to find somewhere for his third wee in three hours! Onward and upwards, literally. The next hour or two was a hard, run/walk slog. The checkpoint at Mankinholes, a tiny village at mile 20 was a highlight. It comprised of a couple of trellis tables on the street path outside a pub. Food and drink included sausage rolls, little iced cakes, bone dry jam donuts, water and whiskey, blended, not single malt! What’s that all about?!
We set off again at a bimbling pace, probably around 5 miles an hour. The weather was now reasonable, the rain having stopped a while ago but the mist was still shrouding the hills around revealing them for a second or two just to keep us interested! We knew the next hour was going to be hard. The contour lines on the map were starting to get closer together (not that any of us even attempted to get ours out – our maps that is), we just knew they were getting closer together because the track was getting steeper and steeper. The bimble turned into a walk which quickly morphed into a crawl, the pushing your hands onto your knees type of crawl. The path had gone, the terrain was mud, rocks, tufts of grass and up. We were accenting Stoodley Pike which from a distance looked like, when the mist temporarily lifted, the pointy bit of Thunderbird Three.
Fast forward (or rather slow forward) down to Hebdon Bridge. I pointed out the towns Co-op to my fellow team members where I had queued for two bottles of Diet Coke with the Ironman they call Mullarkey when we last took part five or six years ago, the very same shop that was submerged under 10 foot of flood water 2 years ago thanks to ‘hurricane’ Desmond. They appeared to be interested but I know they weren’t really.
The next small village, Hepsonstall, overlooked Hendon Bridge. A quaint little place with a couple of boozers, a stone house lined narrow cobbled street and a church. Foggy, Compo, Clegg and Nora Batty wouldn’t have looked out of place here! The distance between the town below and the village above was only about a mile but the difference in height was approximately 1000 Harra feet. The last but one or penultimate checkpoint was situated just beyond the village. From there we only had 7 or 8 miles to go!
Picture this – on a narrow, metalled road, walking swiftly up a hill, a few metres in front of Naz and a few more ahead of Paul, I hear the grey haired, spectacled, jolly sales director shout, and I quote “Phil, I’ve lost my car keys!” “How” I replied. “They’re not there anymore, my zipped pocket was open and they must have fallen out. I’ll have to go back.” I questioned with complete understanding and compassion in my tone of voice, “So how far are you going to go back then – 22 miles?” Paul realised it wasn’t a viable option to retrace his tracks and we all pressed on in silence with the odd expletive coming from the Tourette’ual mouth of the ‘victim’. He wasn’t Happy!
Not long to go now, one more checkpoint to ‘run’ through, then home. Paul by now had come to terms with his dilemma and predicament and had formulated an action plan. High-end German car Assistance were going to be deployed – “they’ll get me home!” Stopping at the final checkpoint Paul asked the marshal if any car keys had been handed in. She was straight on the radio to HQ asking the question. A positive answer came back and Mr Happy returned. He skipped all the way to the finish. The finish was a welcome sight. The rain had started again and it was getting quite cold. Myself and Naz finished just shy of seven and three quarter hours and Paul completed the course a few minutes after us. Hospitality at the end was tremendous. As much veggie pasta and cheese pasties you could eat with buckets of tea and loads of smiles.
Did I say it was going to be relatively flat? I’ll take that back. It was enjoyable though, a great day out in the hills and countryside with fantastic friends.