The first day was warm and sunny, with not a cloud in the sky; lovely weather for a stroll around picturesque Swaledale, not so much for running up and down the valley for 7 hours straight! After a leisurely turning to rushed morning, Fred and I jogged across to the start for our time of 09:00. Timing is not essential as your clock doesn’t start until you “dib”, but out of consideration for other competitors it is best to try and get there on time.
The first 5 minutes are crucial! Route decision is possibly the most important aspect of these events. It really doesn’t matter how fast you can run if you run to the wrong place or choose a bad route which restricts your potential point collection.
Having decided on a circuit we set off. Even at just gone 9am it was warm! The first pull down a long road had me sweating buckets, and we’d barely started. Despite the heat, the first quarter of our route was pleasant, running through rolling fields with shade provided from time to time. A bit of confusion caused by incorrectly copying the location of check point 28 to our OS map cost us a few minutes, but we realised out mistake soon enough and were back on the go.
The next couple of legs over to Helwith then round to Kexwith were serious drags. The first was a long gradual climb along a ridge, but offering fantastic panoramic views to the North and East. A quick descent down to the river, a couple of minutes to have an energy gel, a drink and sort shoe-laces out and the next joyous pull all the way back out and up to Hew Gate was on the way. This was a gruelling straight road gradually rising on and on for what felt like forever. Once we hit the next check-point however, we turned off the road and enjoyed some moor-top dirt-tracks allowing rapid movement once again until we hit Booze.
From here we endured probably the most painful stretch (for me at least) of the whole weekend, up to a 50 point checkpoint through “death valley”, an old quarried valley which reflected the mid-day sun back up at us, baking us, dehydrating us, sapping everything but the desire to get to the next checkpoint. 50 points in the bag, and a short sit-down to re-assess the game plan. Much to our annoyance the best option seemed to be to turn around and drop straight back down to Booze. Down was much faster than up however, and we were soon back on the move our next checkpoint.
From Booze it was mostly low-level running by the river, nice and fast and shaded by trees. Coming through Langthwaite Fred was gasping for a pint in the Red Lion, but we had no time to stop and indulge – pints were to be earned that weekend! It looks like a lovely pub though, and if you’re ever in that neck of the woods I’d highly recommend dropping by. Another long drag up an uninspiring road awaited, but once we’d dropped off the other side of this hill we could turn back to the start if we wanted.
Not a chance! There was one more 50 pointer to grab before we turned back if we wanted a top spot, and this one was a looooooong way up a track. Dragging ourselves up moorland track, we dibbed the checkpoint at a large sheep pen, and munched a bagel each as we started to walk back. At this point eating didn’t feel great, but we were both flagging and we needed a kick to get back in time.
What we didn’t realise at this point was that Swaledale runs faster from West to East, and pretty much all day we’d been running East to West. We hit the next checkpoint much faster than expected, and with about 45 minutes to go I convinced Fred to run via “just one more” checkpoint.
Once we hit that checkpoint there were still 30 minutes to go, and our 1:25000 OS Map showed a sneaky cut-though to pick up a final 10 points. Fred grumbled a little, beer and food were on the brain, but we went for it and it turned out to be our crucial 10 points. I quite enjoyed following an unobvious path down to the riverbank, picking our way over an old, crumbling weir, and back up the other side to the final track. Finally, it was the home stretch and we zipped (read plodded) down a narrow track back into the village and final burst to the finish line.
Post race we partook of our standard chat to other competitors, followed by a can of coke and a dip in the river to freshen up; lovely. Plus we were in 2nd position with only 20 points between us and 1st place!