The Dales Skyline Challenge
You can't be a fell runner and not see/hear/read reports of the Yorkshire Three Peaks race at the end of April, steeped in history (its 64th running this year), the 'Marathon with Mountains' with an entry criteria to match, the race certainly looks unnerving. After a few years of deliberating, I decided last year was going the be the year for me to enter.
In short, I didn't enjoy the race one bit and often said since it was a total lack of preparation (you can play all you want on the likes of Pendle and Boulsworth but it doesn't prepare you for that terrain). The only take away from the race for me was a cracking finish line photo with Wendy Dodds and David Scott, both legends amongst this race (and many others).
Around September last year, to stave off the temptation to entering the Three Peaks again this year, I thought I'd set my eyes on The Fellsman instead (a 61-mile point-to-point race over the Dales) - whether that turns out to be a better idea only time will tell!
I've followed several other runners take part in this in the past, the parts that concerned me was the nature of the terrain and self-navigating over such a distance. The previous long-distance races I've done have been very well marked and had such a large field I was pretty much with others all the way to the end. I'd run parts of The Fellsman course in the fantastic albeit now-defunct 'Dales Trail Series', a set of races that pretty much cemented my love for long off-road running (hint Richard Gale) but thought it would be good to get some experience around some of the other areas.
Now as necessary as a training run is, I don't currently like to run for the sake of running (most of my running is either racing or commuting) nor do I like full recces of the route (that's what race day is for) so I started looking for 'something' in the area...a race, an event...or a Challenge.
I'd seen the GoFar website (www.gofar.org.uk) a couple of times in passing; a cracking little trove of informal challenges with some real distances covered on almost all of them! I recall seeing a page - The Dales Skyline Challenge - and thinking "Isn't a 'Skyline' one of them tough events in the mountains of Scotland or the peaks of the Lake District?... Surely not in't Dales?" (Incidentally, after following the exploits of clubmate Nick Cook and others on the Lakes Sky Ultra over the years, I'm on a Spousal Ban of entering races with 'Sky' in the title until I have less (i.e. zero) dependents under the age of 18).
Described as 'an informal outing without time limits, rules or registrations' I thought this would be a perfect training opportunity and a serious challenge to bag in the process. A quick read of the Fellrunner write up sounded even better and a look over the record of completions showed only a handful of names, I was set on ensuring a couple of Trawden AC names were added to the list. The only limitation being the daylight hours.... ideally I'd need around 13 hours of daylight (I didn't really fancy any part of it in darkness). A quick scout online and lo and behold, the last Saturday in March with 12hr 58m of daylight...it was meant to be.
So the date was set, I'd have plenty of time to plan the route and gather a few team-mates. I'd planned the route early on using OS Maps Online and no doubt revised it umpteen times. Some parts were very straightforward whereas others depended on what lines were available - it came together with a combination of a few emails with Duncan Elliot (the originator) who kindly offered some fantastic tips on the course as well, scouring different websites for reports (of which there were very little), discussing it with Trawden's own off-road aficionado Pete Stobbs and then leaving a little bit to 'on the day interpretation'.
Soon enough, March came around and the big day started taking shape. I'd put together a loose timing schedule based on the summits and road crossings, applying a mathematical approach (obviously), dropping in ascent/descent and pacing (mostly taken from last year's Three Peaks Strava record), ran the numbers and the estimated time of completion came out at 9h 41m (well that's a load of bo**ocks!). A keen and available group of people started to form and the start was set with Dave Fort, Mick Dobson and Craig Storozuk. Adding to my concerns for the day was now keeping up with all or any of these chaps but I knew this wouldn't really be a worry.
31st March: The day arrived and the four of us met in Settle at the sprightly hour of 6.30am (surely we're the only ones considering the Three Peaks plus others in today's conditions?) Unfortunately Captain Dave had a back injury so was not going to be starting with us, but in true testament of character was here to shuttle us to the start line and see us off. A quick photo opportunity at St Bartholomew's Church in Barbon, a starting tap on the gate, and we were underway.
Calf Top – Leg: 5.6km, 59:15 / Total: 5.6km, 59:15
The first summit of the day had a relatively modest 6km mammoth 1900ft climb to the trig. The going was good, several false summits through Castle Knott gave far too much hope of making light work of the day and, as Mick put it, the driving wind was going to be a major factor - he was bloody right! 'Mountain Mick' was quickly off in front leading the way (physically and spiritually) with Craig keeping me in check. We bagged the trig, a short hop over the wall and started the descent.
Crag Hill – Leg: 4.8km, 1hr05 / Total: 10.4km, 2hr04
The descent off Calf Top down Barbondale was everything the tight contour lines on the OS map promised! Tons of tussocks, scree rock and no discernible line to follow. With only 4km to the next summit, it was the 1000ft down that quickly woke up the quads. A swift hop over Barkin Beck at the bottom and a nod to a passing cyclist (we're not the only foolhardy ones out in this weather then) and we start up Barbon High Fell. The navigation was straightforward by following the wall but the freezing cold bogs were certainly felt underfoot. The temperature continued to show itself as another factor today as the snow appeared next to the rocks on the ascent. The trig was a cracking one with a decoration of stones at the base; a quick photo (proof? Surely Strava is gospel nowadays), there was no time to hang around.
Green Hill – Leg: 2.5km, 17:38 / Total: 12.9km, 2hr21
The weather was really picking up with a driving wind, snow underfoot and visibility down to about 100m. We head over to Great Coum, round the corner and headed to Great Hill; no discernible trigs to speak of but a notable pile of stones. A nice runnable section and navigating the by the walls - "left after four walls" comes the instruction from 'Mountain Mick', shortly thereafter him almost being blown off the stile!
Whernside – Leg: 5.2km, 51:05 / Total: 18.1km, 3hr12
We setoff down from Green Hill at a decent pace, still navigating by walls ("straight down with a slight left to cater for the wall cut back"). We make our way onto the pathway and here something in my right foot doesn't feel right, in fact I can't feel it at all. But then again, neither could I feel my left! As we head down the track, I took a tumble over the rocks as couldn't really figure out where I'm placing my right foot. There's no pain but numbness, although the feeling has come back in the left but not the right :/
As we get to the end of the fence line, we head left up the side path to the ascent on Whernside. More frost covered snow drifts and the right foot is still numb, so here I decide it'll be best to stop at Hill Inn and check it over. As we summit Whernside, the conditions were pretty grim, we couldn't wait to get off as soon as we got to the top.
Ingleborough – Leg: 8.6km, 1hr32 / Total: 26.7km, 4hr45
Now last year on the Three Peaks, I'd particularly struggled with descent off Whernside, and it was a fine kettle of fish this time too. It was helped with Mick taking a nice runnable line away from the wet slabs of rock but the usual fast pace, hard on the quads running really started to punish my legs. As we get to the bottom, we pass other outdoor pursuitists including two ladies walking the Three Peaks whilst three-legged-tied for charity. (Told you we're not the only foolhardy ones out today!)
As we get to Hill Inn, Mick and Craig look like they're out for a Sunday stroll (it was still Saturday right?). By this point, my foot was bothering me, my heart rate is up well over 90% max with little efforts and my legs were feeling it. So I fill up water and we all have a bite to eat. I whip the right shoe off to check the foot; all looked ok but the front half was a pure white. I press the skin for a moment and let go and see there's no blood flow at all. Craig's first gem of a comment on the matter "Now I don't know if it's bad, but I know it's not good."
I decide to double sock the right foot and take paracetamol thinking this would thin the blood and help with the circulation (in hindsight, it is aspirin that does this and I still don't know if this was the right thing to do - I'd welcome any feedback!). I have a quick chat with Mick and Craig and we agreed - if we get to the other side of Ingleborough into Horton and it's not right, then we'll reconsider where we are. Craig's second gem of a comment "It's only a fun day out, you don't want to lose a toe!" He does have a point.
Soon we're back on the move from Hill Inn. Now this section is the only running from the Three Peaks that I enjoyed; heading over the grassy farm fields, the duckboards to the foot of Ingleborough and the climb (then with the cheering crowds to get you up). But this time, the grassy fields were a chore as a pain appeared in my right foot, the duck boards felt hard work and the climb up Ingleborough was tough going with a blistering wind, stopping at one point to chat to a mother and her maybe eight-year-old daughter to say how well she was doing (definitely not the only ones).
As the guys peeled away with relative ease I'd already decided that this would be my last climb and Horton would be the end of the day for me. It logistically made sense to get back to the car and even if my foot felt better, my legs were tailing off and it was becoming unfair in the conditions for the other two to wait for me. As we summit, the howling wind was something else. We head to the trig, then straight to the shelter where four or five hardy walkers are taking refuge. A quick photo of the three of us for prosperity.
Horton-in-Ribblesdale – Leg: 7.6km, 1hr01 / Total: 34.3km, 5hr46
If the ascent was bad, the descent was horrible. Those who know the tricky Ingleborough ascent know it can be even more unnerving when you're descending, especially on a very windy a Yorkshire mountain! So at this point it would seem entirely reasonable to bump into fellow Humbug Andy Haworth and his mate Pete on a leisurely Three Peaks/Lakeland 50 training run!
As we make our way along the fairly benign (compared to the summit) track off Ingleborough, I ask the lads to press on into Horton, but in true character, neither was willing to leave me. Mick: "We don't leave people on the fells"...it may be a rose-tinted memory but believe me, I swear he delivered with the conviction of Daniel Day Lewis like out of 'Last of the Mohicans'.
Through the long fields into Horton, we pass the two three-legged-Ladies, still going strong and heading up Ingleborough, and meet Pete Stobbs for a nice catch up and run into Horton to the cafe. We had a brief chat again with Andy and Pete, who kindly offered a lift to Settle, but after seeing a sign post of "Settle: 6 Miles >" I decide to have a slow jog back to the car. I already had my recovery planned - straight to the Old Naked Man Cafe for an egg and mushroom sandwich, shoes off in the car and warm the feet up.
We said our best wishes, our good lucks and the route map was ceremonially handed over to Craig...luckily as Mountain Mick was to lose his further on!
CRAIG STOROZUK CONTINUES...
Pen-y-Ghent – Leg: 4.4km, 52:56 / 38.7km, 6hr39
Leaving Horton behind we turned our attention to the next peak, Pen-y-ghent. This being my personal favourite of the Three Peaks I was actually looking forward to reaching the wintery summit. A gentle trot along the road took us to Brackenbottom where turned back off road. A steady paced walk and chat interspersed with a run on the flats and downs soon brought us to the bottom of the peak itself. As usual the rocky face was awash with hardy walkers and some rather impressive young children, who knows, in a few years and they might be as mad as us! The wind was now returning but heads down and we’re soon tackling the small rocky scramble up to the stone slabs, and in turn we soon reach the trig. After a few laughs with people about our choice of clothing (something along the lines of are you mad?!) we said farewell to Peter and turned around to retrace our steps downwards.
Fountains Fell – Leg: 5.6km, 54:30 / 44.3km, 7hr33
Our last big climb and then onto the home stretch. A quick check of the watch with Mick showed 8300ft ascent completed and 1700ft to go, how hard can it be? We were able to open up our legs on a good track towards Fountains Fell and after what seemed like no time at all we hit the road at the bottom. Despite the wind coming back straight into our faces, another good runnable section took us all the way to the bottom of the climb. A quick refuel for us both and off we went at a steady pace, into the unknown due the clag that hid most of the climb.
Initially following a good trod we soon departed to follow the wall side and what was turning into quite a rugged climb. Grass turned to snow as we continued, and the icy wind was in full flow. Not much further we said, looking forward to soon reaching the summit. Instead we realised it was a false summit and not only was the climb steeper the snow was also deeper, time to dig in a little longer and keep following that wall, it can’t be much further now! We were right, as the wall turned to the right we’d finished the climb and our legs were thankful.
Malham Moor – Leg: 3.7km, 33:11 / 48km, 8hr06
Time for a regroup, check the map and get our bearings then continue in what I was starting to think was actually the North Pole! For our next mile we had nothing but wind, ice, frozen bogs, tussocks…this place really did have its own microclimate. Eventually we reached the back side of the fell and conditions began to change, we had grass, a trod, relative calm and a view. In the distance we spotted South Trig which was upon us in no time after another good runnable section. Quick photo obviously and on we go.
Rye Loaf Hill – Leg: 8km, 1hr06 / Total: 56km, 9hr13
Descending all the way down to meet the road and be greeted by Jamie. A quick catch up on our progress, and an update on Jamie’s feet whilst jogging up the road lifted our spirits followed by a final refuel before heading off to tackle the final ‘easy’ part.
Quickly skirting the edge of Black Hill, we picked up a good trod which took us to join up with the Pennine Bridleway. We got back into our shuffling stride and along the way had a brief encounter with Peter and Molly before continuing along what was a very good track. Conditions were now much improved; the wind had dropped and the arctic chill was no longer present. My legs felt good, how was this possible?
In the distance we spotted another trig and continued at a good pace. At this point paths and trods weren’t of interest as we followed the most direct route up the climb. Trig number nine treated us to something rare…a good view! Quick photo opportunity again before we began the steep descent, nav expert Mick had already spotted a gate in the distance that we were heading for. Waiting was a treat, a lovely soft grassy path followed by a road section, although at that point I think Mick’s feet weren’t thanking him for running in X-Talons!
Warrendale Knotts – Leg: 4km, 39:22 / Total: 60km, 9hr53
Hat off, gloves off, anybody would think it was spring. We trotted on towards the rocks that I’d seen above Settle many times but never visited. One last push up the final climb (not really a climb but hey we’ve done 37 miles) and we reached trig number ten, greeted once again by Peter. As is customary another photo opportunity that couldn’t be refused.
The Market Cross
Back down the rocks and over the stile we were on the final straight. A grassy descent that my quads weren’t entirely keen on then turned to rocky track and finally to road. A minute later Jamie and Settle Market Cross were in sight…we’d done it!
FINAL TOTAL: 62km, 10hr07
Craig: What a day it had been. A rollercoaster of ups and downs battling the elements, not to mention the hills! Toughest run I’ve ever attempted…yes. Most rewarding run I’ve ever completed…without a doubt. I’m already looking forward to attempt number two with my amazing Trawden AC teammates.
Jamie: So in the end, the Dales Skyline didn't happen for me, but I am immensely proud of what these two fine chaps achieved and very pleased with what I did on the day. I am definitely looking forward to Team TAC's second attempt of the Dales Skyline Challenge. And I got a cracking training run out of it!