On the Lancashireman

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So it was the morning of The Lancashireman. The day had finally arrived and I’m not sure why I was looking forward to it so much because it meant, 1) running a long way (still making my mind up if I actually like running or it’s just a mid-life crisis) and 2) running up hills (which I definitely know I don’t like).

But since the day I took part in the relays last year, I had decided to do the full longer-than-a-marathon race. I had also been preparing for it and had decided that I was running it regardless of this Covid thing going on in the world, to the point that every time Jamie posted about it, I reminded him that it had to go ahead regardless – yep, I can be annoying!

8am - King Street car park. I met with the teamies Sam, Andy, Rob and Mark and with the usual pre-run nerves was flapping about (regarding which top to wear – long sleeves/short sleeves , take my fleece, have I enough water, do I need sun cream , woolly hat or cap? Everyone else had long sleeves on! It’s cold at the top of Thieveley! It can be really windy – had I packed my gloves?!).

So kit decided, sun cream applied (I burn easily y’know) and fleece left behind (I was deffo going to blame Lamby if this was the wrong decision!) off we went to the start. Next obstacle to cross – no toilets. Now it’s ok saying ‘go before you set off‘ but when you are used to having 99 nervous wees before a race this does not help! Luckily we found a lovely nettle and weed rustic décor bathroom to use. Finally ready, we headed off to the start – flag photo taken and off we went.

Leg 1 – So with the words of Lamby ‘don’t set off too fast’ and the knowledge that we had a long run ahead, I probably started the first leg too fast. My watch shouted 1 mile reminding me I still had 27 to go. I was already shattered – I always hate the first 3 miles, this is where my mental battle usually begins – and this was no different, except Sam reminded me that I would be fine once I had got over this part.

The first leg was quite surprising – I was expecting the bog-fest we had encountered a few weeks ago on the recce but it was fairly dry in most places – although in true bog-stomper style I managed to navigate to the areas that seemed to be the deepest.

Sam had already disappeared off into the daylight, making the run look as effortless as usual. I was already conserving energy and ‘walking up the hills’ at this stage , happily mud-walking when a fellow TAC teammate ran past – Martin – completely declining (in true team spirit) my offer to pull me through the mud or up the hill – you’d think he was going after a time or something.

So I trudged on, running over hill and dale, glad I’d done the countless recces so I knew my way, and laughing childishly at the memories of our Cockden photos – yep, sad case!

But I wouldn’t be laughing soon as I knew I was approaching the field of huge scary cows who trample and kill (okay, slightly intimidate) all who wander through , and I had no teammates to use as a decoy – then I saw them – more Teammates (Elaine, Pip and Stuart) and another racer – yes! If I could catch them up, they could be the bait and I could survive the cow stampede – but they kept running! Why could they not just stop and walk – stop and walk! I gathered my energy (fear) and tried to catch up. I entered the field just behind them and in true ‘save yourselves style’ I legged it across – I reckon they would have gone after Stuart’s pom-pom first anyway!

At the end of this field you enter another mud-fest just to slow you down in case the cows decide to eat you, before climbing over a dodgy stile to freedom. I made it! And as I looked towards the plastic covered tunnel up the hill in the distance I knew Leg 1 would soon be over, but first the field of hidden drops (Mark’s step! A known drop-spot for falling during recces) nettles, and giant (burn your skin off) hogweed – who comes up with these perilous routes? Sadists – people who obviously go around thinking ‘oo this part will really pee them off – lets add this in!’ Then just as you emerge from this spider laden haven are the steps to nowhere – up , up and up you go. Why did I think this was a good idea?

Finally CP1 – Such a great feeling to see some friendly faces and the offer of food and drink – even though I didn’t stop and just stomped through knowing that If I stopped now and looked up at the climb through Thursden Valley, I would probably have stayed there! Plus I needed a wee!
This climb was so long – I could see Tracy and Neil already halfway up the first hill so I carried on – one foot in front of the other.

I had just caught up to them when there he was – why? Always in the most ‘I’ll catch you at your worst position’ halfway through a race – halfway up that bloody mountain of a climb – David Belshaw. I had resigned myself to the fact that I was definitely NOT running, I was totally up for a walking photo. I could barely breathe and was trying to eat my first Soreen bar. But...nope, Neil had other ideas – ‘C’mon, run for the camera!’ Why, just why? So we ran – well I say ran – I moved my legs a little faster and drew my arms up...and as much as it’s great to see David’s friendly face, I was glad when we’d passed. Choose a nice spot next time please David – downhill?

The next few miles were solitary and focussed on finding an outdoor loo, but every time I thought somewhere may be suitable – up popped the general public – bloody nuisances with their words of encouragement ‘keep going’, ‘well done’, ‘how far you going? ’ I didn’t even see Shane Harrison until I was standing in front of him – don’t you know I want a wee!

As I ran down towards Hurstwood (yep, a downhill section at last) my teeth started chattering. I wasn’t cold but I couldn’t stop it. Then I started worrying – I’d had a tooth out on Thursday (yep, had to get this in at some point – trauma tooth Thursday) and my sister reminded me before the race that I should be resting and you can get side effects that affect your heart. So of course I started thinking I was going into shock – nothing like being melodramatic. Anyway, I carried on the chattering carried on – I just ignored it.

And then there it loomed – the field I shared with Pete the bull! And it had no sign on it stating ‘Bull In Field’ – had someone took it down as a joke? Was the bull actually in the field this time? No one was about – what if I got attacked by this bull, how long would it take before I was rescued? Which type of sadist puts a race route through a field with a killer bull in it anyway?! And I still needed a wee!

Guess what? I got another PB in that field! And just to prove to Pete that I wasn’t scared of him, I found another rustic outdoor peeing place – up yours Pete the bull!

Checkpoint 2 – I could see it, it was just across that field, past the tree. I could see figures bobbing about in the distance – yes! A hot coffee – I even ran the last few metres across the field (got to put some effort in, it was a race after all). I entered CP2 with people cheering me in, it was a great feeling, and there she was my saviour with coffee and meds (for my tooth), then within minutes I left.

Leg 3 – Just the thought of it was enough. It was on this tarmac trek I forced half a squashed peanut butter effort on bread down my throat. I still find it really hard to eat and run/walk – this is a skill I definitely need to learn more.

On reaching the farm I really, really wanted to run down the track, but a little whisper of conscience (Sam Barnes on the recces) said I had to do the run properly and not deviate from the official route – now usually I’m a rulebreaker so why I listened I have no idea – Strava police? Team rules? Doing the right thing? Sadistic tendencies? Or maybe I just really, really love running through tufty, boggy, trip you up so you fall face first crappy fields – and yep I did right in front of Karen and her running partner – I think the air turned blue at this point. Karen, bless her, was so concerned for my safety she regretted not having her camera to take a photo! Up I got, checked for ticks and god knows what else – at least I hadn’t landed in cow s**t – and on I went! (Thanks Sam!)

And then there it was – the path going up-up-up-up-up to Thieveley Pike! I begrudgingly set off upwards – I decided I would take a gel at this point and try and drink some water. It was warm, too warm – whoever said don’t take your fleece , superstar!

The hike to Thieveley felt like the longest walk of my life, every time you reached one summit another one popped up, then another one then…. Just as I was emerging through another hill of ferns feeling completely drained, thighs screaming and feeling sick (anybody else’s do this?), wondering whether I should just turn left and head home to bed and a fizzy drink instead of carry on this insane journey, another friendly face popped up (like it was staged) a very welcome sight and much needed for this last stretch – Andy Ratters, my companion for the journey home.

We made it up to the top of Thieveley (well I tried to keep up – they even started running at one point across the moors (good job you couldn’t hear what I was saying) – but I have never been so happy to see a trig, and of course I’m gonna take a selfie. Then there it last...the downhill (I love the downhills) although I think this maybe the slowest time I’ve run down it, my legs were dictating the pace now, they were moving but only just.

CP3 – More smiley faces and people to pass, and a quick reflection on the fact that I was so glad I had done the recces and knew the way as I found myself at various points sounding like I was knowledgeable shouting to other runners (who’d have thought I would be telling people which way to go and getting it right – Mark Walsh would be proud of me for this, especially as I’m not known for my expert navigational skills usually).

I could see Burnley and knew it wasn’t much more than a parkrun home (to quote Andy Lamb) – a bloody long tiring parkrun through another field to a tree (what’s with the trees!), through a packed out Towneley park, up the avenue, dodging the normal people enjoying the day. I think I may have scared a few folk as I’ve a feeling I looked a little demented stomping through, arms swinging, sweating, muddy and whinging about how much I was tired and hot and wanted to jump in the water fountain – poor Andrew!

And then before I knew it...the last mile...being confirmed by a baby in a field (accompanied by an adult) shouting ‘keep going, only a mile to go’ – quite surreal but the start of the longest mile ever, especially when Andrew said ‘It’s only a six-minute run away’ and off we went, legs moving into a run – down the street, over the bridge, onto the canal (I hate canal running!)...and then there it was...the flag! The finish...and up the bloody steps (could have predicted that one – sadist!).

And best of all...all the teamies clapping you in! It was over – I had earned my T-shirt and could now claim I had completed the Lancashire(man/ woman) more-than-an-off-road-marathon-that –was-devised-by-a-sadist and I survived!

Would I do it again? Ask me in a week...still deciding if I actually like running!

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