About 2 years ago we had a run with Amanda Seims and she suggested I should go for an Ultra Marathon–what a ridiculous idea I thought! Scroll forward to May 2018 and I did the Punk Panther route “A Bridge Too Far” from Otley to Pateley Bridge and back which is some 40’ish–the ‘ish always means it’s a bit further and never any less I’ve since learnt. Anyway I managed that, tough but quite enjoyed it and recovery was reasonably ok. Since then I’ve done 2 more of the Punk Panther Ultra Series and found them fantastic routes, well organised and with great company to run with.
This is the 50th year Celebration of the Dales Way route traditionally from Ilkley to Windermere in the Lakes, a classic 80 mile walking route typically undertaken for pleasure about 5 days–very reasonable. Ryk and Bev Downes who organise Punk Panthers however came up with a cunning plan to do it in reverse over 36 hours!! In a moment of weakness I couldn’t resist the Challenge and my entry was paid for and done. That was definitely the easy and painless part of the Challenge.
As the day of the approached slight panic set in, I managed to recce a lot of the route in sections, and poor Jean had to put up with my constant wittering on about if I was going to sleep anywhere on route, what gear I should carry etc, etc–all perfectly normal pre race stuff! Fortunately for me she bore the subject well and didn’t complain as far as I can remember.
Come the Saturday of the Event it was up at 4.15am (what is happening my body said!) to catch a coach from Ilkley to Windermere with a load of equally nervous runners. As with a lot on the coach I’d run 40 miles but this was double that and we would be running across rough terrain in the pitch dark–might just be interesting.
The first part of the route was good, steady run/walking as planned on territory I knew and in lovely sunshine. What a blissful feeling which I suspected deep down would not last. Onward on soft grassy tracks through beautiful Dentdale to a check point at Dent 30 miles in, getting slightly weary but ok. Refuelled, quick rest and on up the valley with the sun starting to dip and night on it’s way. By this point we were running on road, hard on feet but certainly ate up the mileage thank you. As night fell and it started to get dark just nicely timed for us to turn off the road and explore the rough fells under the light of head torches. The day before not only had Ed Sheeran been performing at Roundhay Park but it had absolutely poured all day long across the country. The result of this was that the “track” was an absolute quagmire up and down in mud and puddles which proved a gentle introduction to what I was to find a bit later on. The next check point was at Gearstones, 40 miles in (yippee, half way!!) where there was warmth, plenty of hot food and plenty of good banter to cheer us up.
There was also a team of Medics there who had the delight of me taking off my shoes and socks to expose soggy, smelly feet along with start of a couple of blisters. A quick wash, dry, taping up, clean socks and I felt a whole world better so off on my way into the dark night.
I’d already done a recce of the next stage over to Buckden and knew it would be a crux and so it proved beyond any doubt at all. The first part was fine and we were in a small group but soon we were trying to follow some sort of vague muddy line disappearing and repairing in the torch light along with dropping into deep waterlogged gullies and back up again. The energy we expended in that section of around 4 miles alone was unbelievable and we used far too much of our physical and mental reserves–it was absolute bliss to find ourselves on a decent track again. By the time we arrived at the Buckden checkpoint we were all a little quiet and despondent sat in the dark. There was, however, no real option but to carry on as “Recovery” options in case of retirement were extremely limited-in fact next to zero unless you had a “friend” to come and pick you up.
As we left the checkpoint dawn started to appear but so did the rain, not heavy but dampened our already low spirits. Onward we went through Grassington (damaged/stinking/wrinkled feet retaped by Medics, thank you) and on to Bolton Abbey but at least the sun was out to improve our mood. By this time I was in a group of 3 encouraging each other as our moods dipped and rose, phrases like “we just need to get this thing done and over now” spring to memory but we slowly got through the miles and the chances of us finishing within the 36 hour cut off time rose from possible to probable. Some of the stiles after Bolton Abbey were cruel–big climbs up on stone steps and then down again with bottom stones at both sides far too high for our tired legs, did we curse!!!!
As we approached Addingham I vaguely saw a couple of people coming the other way but was so in auto plod mode it was a while before I realised it was Ian Sanderson and Kathy–thank you for taking the trouble to come and see me, I may not have been able to talk much but Kathy made up for that and it lifted my load. Soon after that Jean appeared, I really hadn’t expected to see her but she certainly spurred me on to make the finish.
And what a cruel, nasty finish it was!! The final check point was at the Ilkley Tennis Club but we needed to pass the Club, continue to the plaque by the old bridge which is the official start/finish of the Dales Way and then return to the Tennis Club. The route instructions said 100m each way, it was 500m–not a lot you may say but—–!!!!
It was fortunate Jean had come out on the bus to Ilkley to meet me, I started to drive us home but the pain in my feet was too much when I tried to push the pedals. As soon as I got in the passenger seat I started nodding off so it was a shower (definitely needed that for everyone’s benefit), a quick bite to eat and then bed for 14 hours sleep.
Anyway it’s done and dusted, glad I finished, got T shirt/medal/certificate and would have been absolutely gutted later if I had retired part way through which would have been an extremely pleasant option at the time. Would I do it again?–really not sure but don’t think so. It is now some 48 hours after the finish, my feet are much improved as the damage was mainly bruising/swelling rather than entirely blisters and I’m starting to feel somewhat more alert but my body still feels generally battered.
From what I’ve seen 128 started and 108 finished, my guess is that I finished about 4 from the end in around 34.5 hours with the winner in just under 15 hours.
Thank you to all who were following me and have sent me so many messages, I really do appreciate every single one.