On the Calderdale Hike
I haven’t done one of these for a while so here goes on my Race Report for the Calderdale Hike. It’s a bit long winded so you might want to get yourself a brew or some form of alcohol if preferred.
This was a deferred ‘race’ that i was supposed to run in 2020 as prep for the Lakeland 50. However, thanks to the wonderful Covid19 sadly neither happened and while I finally got to run the LL50 in 2021 this one was still unfinished business. Given that I was nursing a hamstring issue that’d been annoying me since prior to Xmas, not a lot of actual running had been going on leading up to this. Consequently, to say I was underprepared going into it, is a bit of an understatement! Still I was entered so I thought if nothing else it’d highlight just how far off any sort of fitness I was. Consequently at 6:30am on a dark, cold & icy Saturday morning I jumped in the car and headed for Sowerby Bridge for the 9am start.
A very well organised & quick registration, tally collection and kit check meant I’d arrived in plenty of time to chill, have a very welcome coffee and a chat to other competitors about what was to come. This included fellow Humbug Matt Howarth who was also on a deferred run from a couple of years previously. The general consensus of opinion appeared to be that if you didn’t know the route you would most definitely get lost, at least once but more likely a few times. At this point I should’ve probably made a note to myself to pay attention to my navigation etc but I assumed … “it’ll be right”. Anyway just before 9am we were all duly called outside for a short briefing, part of which was the strict cut off of 6:30pm at the last check point (approx 4 miles from the finish). Given that I wasn’t intending on putting myself under any pressure to actually get round the whole 36 miles, let alone in a ‘time’, I didn’t think too much about this. Oops!
Briefing over and without any undue fuss it was then ‘go’. As with any ultra the start was a rather sedate affair out of the cricket club onto to the backroad over the tops towards Mythomroyd. Folk were finding their own pace as the road wound up and down until we finally veered off onto a track. Described by the organisers as a ‘bit if a navigation exercise’, sure enough it wasn’t long before issues occurred. Running down a lane I was met by runners coming back up. “It’s a Private road and we can’t get through” was the response to the questions asked by myself and others however the GPX track on my watch (supplied by the organiser) said we were right. Cue a bit of a conflab before a chap charged past who said he knew the the route and it was straight through the house’s drive & garden. I’ve often wondered what the people who buy these ‘posh’ houses feel like when 300+ walkers & runners charge through their garden early on a bright & sunny (if cold) Saturday morning. But with a public footpath running through the property what do they expect?
At 2 miles in we hit our first checkpoint before starting to head downhill. Now nicely warmed up I soon hit my second (but certainly not my last) issue of the day. On most off road runs I always try my best to keep my feet dry for as long as possible. However today was one of those days where it didn’t work as 30 mins in I fell into a bog right up to my knees. Dammit! Nothing to be done about it but carry on so onwards and downwards to Mythomroyd where we were confronted with the first major climb of the day. A steep, straight up took us back onto the tops again where we went through cp2. Carrying on on a nice long runnable section crossing the hillside under Stoodley Pike it didn’t take too long before I reached cp3 at Lumbutts Church. At approx. 6 miles in on the route this is the point where the fun run (the race director’s words not mine) veers off back towards the start on the16+ mile ‘short’ route but unlike the early checkpoints at least it had supplies. For me, being so early on. It was a case of straight in & out getting my tally clipped and grabbing a flapjack & a handful of sweets before dropping the rest of the way down into Todmorden to cross the A646.
Unfortunately the problem with anything in this neck of the woods is that once back down in the valley bottom you can guarantee its going to be followed by another uphill section. In truth as it was still early in the race the climbs weren’t too exerting and with the benefit of chatting to other runners, including a lady who said she remembered me helping her with directions on the Lancashireman, we were soon back on the tops. We were now running just under where the ‘Kebs’ road is and traversing the moors via cp4 towards Portsmouth and cp5 at Mounts Cross. Again a quick stop to get my tally clipped & top up my bottles before another long & steep descent into the valley bottom not too far from the fabulous ‘Staff of Life’ pub. Sadly, whilst a nice pint would’ve been most welcome at this point, it wasn’t really on the agenda as this section was, as expected, followed by another steep climb back onto the fell tops. Now heading pretty much due South over Todmorden Moor I felt I was still moving well. The hamstring was behaving and in truth the clear skies and chilly conditions meant it was probably a perfect running day. The only downside was a brisk breeze on the tops which was fine while you were moving but not if you stopped. Picking up the Tomorden Centenery Way my ‘ultra shuffle’ was still out in force and I was soon past the observatory and at Holden Gate, checkpoint six. Just over 15 miles in and all good so far.
From here it was a long slow gradual uphill over more Pennine moorland past cp7 & continuing upwards towards Crook Hill. It was on this section, whilst passing some rather large wind turbines (scary to be underneath) that a whole gamut of rather speedy fellrunners came charging past me. Busy watching them as they careered across the fells annoyingly I missed another route change and ended up having to cross yet another bog! And my feet had only just about dried out! Once back on course I started a long gradual descent back down to the valley bottom in Calderbrook. So far I’d been surviving on my Jelly Snakes and the flapjacks & sweets available at the check points. However all this sweet stuff was getting a tad sickly and the lack of anything savoury or salty was starting to get to me. Normally I’d have some Babybels and Pepperamis in my pack but in my ignorance I’d assumed there’d be a good selection on offer on the route like there are on the Hebden. Not so! Desperately craving a bag if crisps or something, cue two lovely ladies (and their little lad) sat in their car giving out cocktail sausages & ritz crackers. You absolute beauties you! In truth the little lad wasn’t overly keen on handing over the crackers and he made sure he’d got a good handful before passing me the box so I could take a few lol.
Anyway back in the valley bottom yet again and another slight ‘lost’ moment for me before a kindly chap walked past and said “other side of the canal mate”. Saved again! Straight through checkpoint eight on the canal side and pretty much straight away I’m climbing again over the brow of a small hill & back down to a river. Yet again my watch isn’t as accurate as I’d like and I set off wandering up another hill before realising I’m on the wrong side of the bloody river. Thankfully I’m well over halfway now at about 23 miles in but clearly I’m getting tired and sloppy with my nav. Unfortunately I have to lose the altitude I’ve just gained to get back on route. However once back on course the worrying thing is I can now see the next checkpoint at ‘The White House ’. The big problem is it is sat on top of another dirty great big hill. Does this thing ever stop with the up and down? This section proved to be quite a slog over a very boggy (yes I went in again) and tussock strewn hillside without any sort of discernible path. It’s here that I’m ‘caught’ by a young couple plus a young lad who I’d last seen disappearing into the distance somewhere between miles 15 & 18. How they ended up behind me I can’t understand however as we’re all dragging ourselves up to the White House they inform me that my detour with the fellrunners was small in comparison to theirs.
Given the serious effort it took to get up to cp9 I decide to have a short breather before the next section which takes us pretty much due south again to eventually cross the M62. From here I attempt to stay as best as I can on the shirttails of the three I’d come up the last hill with however it’s not long before they’re running away from me. In truth this part of the course is actually pretty runnable and do my best but my lack of fitness is starting to tell and my hamstring is now giving me gip. One thing I would say is that being up there on the tops, despite my discomfort, in the sunshine on such a clear day was fantastic and the views towards south were extraordinary. In hindsight I should have stopped to take a picture or two of the vast expanse that had opened up in front of me but tiredness meant I needed to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other and not messing about taking pics! Shuffling down to the footbridge I duly crossed the M62 to the Windy Hill checkpoint where I caught up with the threesome again. I actually think they were as surprised as I was to be honest as I suspect they were convinced they’d dropped me again. Twenty seven miles done and nine to go. Or so I thought!
Leaving windy hill I could tell that time was ticking slowly away as the sun was certainly beginning to dip in the sky however with only one cp between here and the finish I felt pretty confident of at least getting to the end. Maybe not in the right timeframe but certainly completing it. That said I was well aware I was starting to fade a bit and as such determined to try and stick with with the ‘three’ if I possibly could rather than shuffling along on my own. Having company of any description can be a godsend went it starts to get tough. Thankfully this section was again open moorland past a reservoir but thankfully on a good clear path on fairly flat terrain. This meant I did pretty well at staying with them for the next 3 to 4 miles but as soon as we started climbing again they began to leave me behind. Back on the tops the tussocks reappeared (but thankfully not the bogs) making headway difficult but I stuck at it until I started to descend backdown towards the southern end of Ripponden and sadly my downfall.
Having lost sight of the three people I’d hoped to tag along with I determined to rely just on the GPX track on my watch rather than the route I’d downloaded onto my phone (or the OS map in my bag!). Annoyingly, whilst my phone had the correct route, the GPX hadn’t been updated to take in the position change of the final checkpoint. Oblivious to this fact I made my way downhill onto a farm track to be confronted by 5 absolutely huge highland cattle. Sadly they were completely blocking the track so stopping I tried to work out how to get past. Surely this can’t be right I thought as I couldn’t see the organiser sending a whole pack of runners past these ‘monsters’? Whilst standing ‘thinking’ I recalled something from the briefing regarding alpacas but nothing about cattle with massive horns. Unfortunately they weren’t showing any interest in moving but thankfully they also weren’t in the slightest bit aggressive. As such I managed to very, very slowly and cautiously work my way around them. Desperate not to spook them as being trampled by even one of these things would not have ended well for me let alone five! Finally past them & jogging through what appeared to be a sports field I tried my best to get rid some of the cattle slurry that I’d accumulated on my legs & shoes which absolutely stunk, before hitting a track down to the main A672 Oldham Road near a rather wonderfully smelling curry house. Im obviously hungry. Yet again my watch led me astray here and whist I attempted to get back on track my three erstwhile companions appeared behind me. Puzzled as to how yet again we’d become out of sync it was here that I realised my mistake and that I’d missed the final checkpoint. Looking again at the route, running all the way back up to it at this stage was not something I really relished at this late stage. However the ‘trio’ put me out of my misery when they declared they’d just been timed out but were still intending to finish the route. Consequently making my way all the way back up just to be ‘timed out’ seemed nonsensical but I was also now determined to get to the end.
A quick call to the organisers to explain what had happened but that I was intending to make my way to the finish and I was off again along the valley bottom. I fully believed that from here the route wouldn’t climb much on the way back to Sowerby Bridge. Unfortunately this was not the case and half a mile later I was clambering the valley side for what I hoped was the last time. A steep uphill on a cobbled lane brought me to a wood where I was soon skirting the hillside but again through slutch and crud. Cue soggy feet yet again. On a very welcome downhill section I came across a large Roe deer quietly grazing away in a small coppice. In truth I’m not sure which of us scared the other most but we both stopped dead before she abruptly bounded off. Following this came yet another short uphill section (including a detour due to some halfwit padlocking a gate on the route) before I was finally on a long downhill of nice Tarmac road for a change (always a roadrunner at heart). Great! A chance to finally run a bit and get rid of some of the accumulated muck from my shoes for what I hoped was the last time. Turning left at the rather enticing Moorcock Inn took me onto another lovely downhill section of the hard stuff down into Sowerby Bridge. Knowing the end was nigh I relaxed and let the descent take me. Zig zagging down the bottom section in the ever increasing gloom my phone suddenly went off. Not far from the finish now so do I answer it or not? Thinking it might be the race organiser I managed to dig it out of my pack only to have Louise asking where I was. My ‘about half a mile from the end’ response seemed to placate her so I said I’d ring her properly when I got to the end. She does worry about me! Anyway cue the last slog up a series of never ending very narrow steps in the dark. Its too late now for me to be bothered looking in my pack for my headtorch and so I use my phone to negotiate them. Getting some particularly odd looks from the locals no doubt heading for the pub I at last gained the road taking me back to the cricket club. As I’m entering the car park the ‘trio’ are just leaving and I get a high five and a well done for making it (I really should have asked their names .…) As there’s now a wedding in full swing in the venue I’m directed round the back of the club where I hand over my tally and receive a finishers certificate along with a much welcome jacket spud with beans. Eleven hours & thirty two mins all in and thats how I feel. All in!
As it’s now pretty late I don’t dally in the club and make my way back straight back to the car where I sit quietly and eat and drink. Despite taking a complete set of clean clothes I’m too tired to be bothered with getting changed so once I’ve had my fill of the jacket spud I ring Louise to let her know I’ve finished and that I’m leaving. Just the one hour drive home to endure now however with my right hamstring going into random spasms this was no easy task! Not good when at times you have no control of your accelerator/brake leg but I thankfully made it home without mishap.
So the final tally of my Saturday sojourn was just shy of 40 miles (due to my many detours) not 36 as advertised and over 8000 foot of up (and down) not the 6000 I apparently signed up for! A tough race all round. So what did this outing teach me? Lessons leant:
Don’t try this unfit!
Don’t try this injured!
Don’t trust GPX alone!
Do get the bloody map out!
Do pay attention to late course updates!
Do take ‘proper’ food!
Don’t follow the bloody Fellrunners!
Do ask people their names!
Thanks for listening...