First race of the year means first blog post of the year. 3 months since the last, and between times there has been one race, the Boxing Day 10k in Poole where I set a new PB but missed out on the sub-36. This year it’s back to the ultra distance running as my ankle which caused me a lot of trouble last year is now good enough (although nowhere near perfect) for off-road running again. Unfortunately I missed out in the draw for the 2012 UTMB so I now need to renew my qualification points as all those from 2010 have now expired.So time to get some solid miles in the legs and the Haworth Hobble seemed like a good starting point, 32 miles over the Pennine Moors starting and finishing in Haworth (famous for the Bronte sisters) taking a triangular route via Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. I was in reasonable shape from a consistent block of running (baring a few calf niggles as usual) and had recced the middle 20 miles of the route two weeks before so knew what I was in for. The weather forecast was OK, although driving across the moors early on race day morning the cloud was down and it was raining. Fortunately the rain mostly stayed away during the race, but the cloud stayed put for the first half.
The race starts at the bottom of the cobbled street through Haworth so immediately heads uphill before easing into a couple of miles on tarmac. I’d started too far back and worked my way up the field before deciding I was going too hard and easing off again. Just after Bronte Bridge I stopped to take off my gilet as despite a strong headwind and the cloud being down it was pretty warm. A steady climb up to the ruined farmhouse of Top Withins (supposed to be the inspiration for Wuthering Heghts) then a long descent off the moor on super-slippery flagstones down to reservoirs and some tarmac to Checkpoint 1 at Widdop Reservoir.The next section to the Long Causeway follows the Pennine Bridleway so familiar to anyone who has done the relay (first bit of Leg 2, but the other way). Then along the road past the wind-farm which couldn’t be seen but made its presence known by the woop-woop-woop noise coming through the mist. A tedious down then up through a nasty boggy field to CP3 at 15 miles, almost halfway. I was running straight through the checkpoints as I was carrying all my food and drink and this allowed me to latch onto the back of a 20 strong “peloton” for the packhorse trail above Todmorden, descending steadily then a steep drop down into the Calder Valley. Across the river and canal then of course it’s straight back up the other side first to Mankinholes (via a second muddy field of despair) then on up to Stoodley Pike looming high above on the hillside. Down again into Callis Woods then a traverse round the hillside above Hebden Bridge, with a view of Heptonstall church across the valley. Probably a nice view were it not for knowing that to get there meant dropping 150m down into Hebden before then regaining all that height up the other side. The climb to Heptonstall is the most tedious section of the route, a steep set of steps followed by a tarmac climb, the only relief being provided by a chap manning his own aid station out of his front door giving out drinks and jelly babies (thanks!).
Photo courtesy of runfurther
Down again to the next checkpoint then a long drag of a climb up though Crimsworth Dean where the miles (25 down now) really started to make themselves felt. I’m not that quick going uphill at the best of times – and this was not the best of times! So it was just a case of getting it done with a “run to that rock/tree then have a bit of a walk” strategy. Approaching the final checkpoint at 27 miles my 5 hour target looked touch and go, especially as straight after the CP there was a steep half mile tarmac climb. Fortunately the next section of steady climbing up to Top of Stairs was mostly runnable and going over the top Haworth could be seen, the finish in sight! The next descent was long but rocky and not that quick going before emerging onto the road with just 2 miles to go. A final climb up to Penistone Hill then all downhill to the finish. I caught up a pair ahead when they took a slight wrong turn and we were really pushing the pace down into Haworth. A bit of confusion as when we came out at the church they went left up the cobbled street to then drop down to the finish at the school, which in fairness is the logical route. Whereas I went right down the cobbled street to then have to come back up to the school, this is the described route but is clearly longer and I was probably the only person who went this way! Still, it only cost me a minute and no places and I hit the finish line at 4 hours 59.Was shattered at the finish but chuffed to hit my target, and later I found out that I had finished in 17th place (well 19th really as there were two pairs ahead of me). So a good start to the year and apart from the usual calf troubles my legs have come round pretty quickly. Next up is the Edale Skyline fell race in a week and a half before a four week gap to the London Marathon and then a week after the 3 Peaks Fell Race at the end of April. Mid-May sees a trip to Wales for the Ultra Brecon 40, a 2-point qualifier for the UTMB. After that I’ll probably have to get some tri training in for Challenge Roth in July!