The hare and the tortoise

Those two guys are half my age and moving at twice my speed yet I’ve arrived at the second checkpoint ahead of them; curious. They give me a friendly grin and shoot off into the distance. I am plodding after them feeling old and slow.

We started in Cold Kirby up in the Hambledon Hills; ancient monastic lands north of Ampleforth and east of Rievaulx. The route will zig-zag up and down the steep escarpment to the west, reaching Arden Great Moor in the north before working back home via Rydale.

It is an unseasonably summery March day and… there they are behind me. I’m at the northernmost checkpoint in open moorland and I’ve beaten those lads to it! They shoot past me again as I start my descent into Ryedale and the search for CP 7.

The Cleveland Survival is an orienteering event; twenty five miles to cover with fourteen checkpoints, plenty of climbing and loads of variety. The perfect way to spend the day AND – you ought to taste a pint of Black Sheep Ale after all that running!

I’ve got this off to a fine art. En route to the next checkpoint, make sure I’m heading in the right direction and then – on the move – work out the route to the checkpoint after next. So as I make the final approach, I know the exit route and direction to the next CP and don’t have to think about it. I clip my card and move off straight away. No standing ‘round and staring at the map – navigate on the move!

Of course, I also trip over things and run into trees, but when it works it’s fantastic!

I’ve a lovely view of Reivaulx Abbey as I jog towards CP 11. We are on the home straight now, working our way back to Cold Kirby. And there they are again; they’re standing and staring at the map.  I give them a wave as I lumber past and, when they’ve sorted themselves out, they leave me behind in a cloud of dust.

If those lads ever learn to read a map there’ll be no stopping them.

Dehydration, cramp and despair

 Event: Lyke Wake Race – Date: July 2008 – Distance: 42 miles (67 km) – Time: 9 hrs 56 min

Aproaching Carton Bank CP

Our second go at the Lyke Wake Race in ’09 had a simple goal – to shave thirty minutes off our previous time. However, Chris was unable to compete so I decided to do the race solo.

Torrential rain was forecast so I dressed for a chilly outing: tracksters and long sleeved T-shirt with a vest underneath. Yet the sky was deep blue when I reached the start at 06.10 that morning. This was to be a hot day; clouding over by midday then clearing to blue skies again. Had I known I would have stripped off; but this was northern England, I was sure the rain would show up before long.

When I tucked in to my rice pudding and peaches at the Lion Inn I was thirty minutes ahead of last year’s time. I felt a little stab of cramp, so I rubbed my leg and munched half a bag of salty crisps to replenish my sodium chloride and set off again.

More cramp set in on the way round Rosedale head. What’s more, I was feeling tired. Tired

Lyke Wake Race

 and afraid; the next section crossed the swamps of West Gill Head and there were no other runners in sight. What if I went in over my head and couldn’t get out? I dug out my emergency whistle and held it in my fist ready to blow like crazy if I got into trouble. Feeling more confident, I set off.

But the bogs turned out to be dry. In fact the whole moor had a desiccated look compared to last year. In wonderment, I arrived at the next CP with dry socks!

But the next section was a struggle; I was feeling nauseous, and getting cramp in both legs. I wobbled down the hill to Wheeldale Beck and staggered up the other side to Simon Howe, the high point of the moor. Here I had to stop, sit down and re-group; I was almost finished, and in despair, where had all my bottle gone? The view was gorgeous and the sun hot on my back as I tried to evaluate the situation rationally:

Aproaching Eller Beck

Cramp in both calves and my inside right leg. Salty crisps had not solved the problem. I felt nauseous and eating food made it worse. I was weak all over and felt like I may faint.
The explanation was simple; I was overheated, dehydrated and had run the first half of the course too fast.

Sitting at Simon Howe that day I realised that I would have to solve these problems or pull out of the race; I just would not make it to Ravenscar in this state. So here’s what I decided to do: first, squirt half of water bottle over my head, and empty other half down my throat, Then, remove my long sleeved T-shirt (felt immediately better). Then, break open the secret weapon; a cookies and cream Hershey bar, and eat half of it (felt better still)

Leaving Simon Howe, I descended slowly, resisting the temptation to run; I would either recover or have to retire and I was not going to do the latter. I told myself not to worry about barfing… it would probably make me feel better anyway. I got to Eller Beck in reasonable fettle, walking most of the way. Cathie met me here and that cheered me up a great deal – she gave me a bottle of orange juice for later.

By now, running was not an option, but I still managed to take out a couple of racers on the way to Lilla Howe. This was encouraging, but I was in not in good shape, with very sore feet and stabs of cramp beginning to return. So at Lilla I poured more water over my head, sank the orange juice and wolfed the rest of the Hershey bar. All my treats gone, I set off for Jugger at a fast walk.

Everything south of my waist hurt like Hell and I had a tweak in my right knee that hurt when I took a downward step. So Jugger Howe was a blast! Yet I was still taking out the competition – if I was in pain, they were in more! I even managed a victory jog-cum-hobble to the finish line.

And I beat last year’s time by ten minutes, which was good enough for me under the circumstances.

The Lyke Wake Race

(A previous blog went down with all hands when I tried to update some software – this is a repost of an article from that blog)

Sheepwash - start of the Lyke Wake Race

Sheepwash - start of the Lyke Wake Race

Event: Lyke Wake Race – Date: July 2008 – Distance: 42 miles (67 km) – Our time: 10 hrs 6 min

In the 1950s a local walker thought it would be a good idea to string together as many ancient sites as he could on a line from Osmotherley in the west to Ravenscar on the North Sea coast: a standing stone, a Saxon cross, a burial mound in the middle of nowhere. He gave us the Lyke Wake Walk, a long distance challenge taking in many of the best features of the North York Moors. 

This is the North Yorks Moors

It is a long and uncompromising route; a test of determination, endurance and navigation. If you can complete the traverse within 24 hours, then you will be a man my son. Unless you attempt it on the day of the annual Lyke Wake Race; on that day you must do it in 12 hours or Paul won’t give you your certificate and key fob; worse, you will never be able to hold your head high again.

The start: Sheepwash car park, Osmotherley, 04.15 hrs. The starter is handing out the cards you have to clip at each checkpoint along the way, just to prove you have been there. There are seven of these; one every time the route crosses a road manned by volunteers who make sure everyone is accounted for and provide water and food for the competitors. They are serious about safety; if they don’t think you will make it you will be told to retire. If you refuse, you will be told you are an idiot. 

In our starting group there is some nervous chatter. There are five of us: a pair who finished in ten hours last year, and an older bloke doing it solo. Chris and I are doing it together, it is our first time and we are anxious. 

Our last training run was on midsummer’s day one month before, 22 miles in strong winds and horizontal rain, mountain runners wear very lightweight gear and cannot afford to hang around in those kinds of conditions. At the end I was exhausted and demoralised; the thought of going twice as far in that kind of weather turned my stomach. 

But now I felt a little better, the weather was going to be OK today and we were getting good

En route to Jugger Howe CP

 advice from the old hands. The last time I was in this car park I was squatting wretchedly in the rain trying not to vomit, now it felt good, “Hey!” I thought to myself, “Maybe I won’t die on this gig!” 

Go! Said the starter, and we were gone, walking briskly up the hill. Fell runners tend to walk up the hills and run down them; whether or not they run on the flatter bits depends on how knackered they are. Chris and I kept pace with the more experienced guys we started with; Andy was in his late 50s and had done this event many times. The other pair, wrapped up warm in their yellow anoraks, were a bit faster than us and pulled away, jogging briskly as soon as the path headed downhill.  We stayed with Andy… this turned out to be a shrewd move. 

The first ten miles of the Lyke Wake follows the Cleveland Way along one of the north of England’s most beautiful ridges; or so we thought. After the first checkpoint Andy said, “Don’t climb anything you don’t have to” as he introduced us to a useful trail that by-passed several tops and dropped us neatly at the next checkpoint. Chris and I were chuffed to have saved ourselves a lot of climbing and delighted that the yellow anoraks, who had followed the crest of the ridge, were now well behind us. 

The ascent of Round Hill (on Urra Moor) took us to the highest point in the Cleveland Hills (1500 feet) from here on the race stays on high moorland plateau before it drops gradually towards the ocean and Ravenscar village. The first part of this journey follows an old mineral line which contours the head of Farndale at around 1200 feet. This was our chance to put some time in the bank by running it. For Chris and me ‘running’ meant the sort of relaxed jog we knew we could keep up for a long time. We passed several teams on the way to the third checkpoint at the Lion Inn. The wind was cool and gentle, the sky overcast, and we were enjoying ourselves. It seemed that we may well finish just inside the twelve hour limit. 

The Lion Inn

The Lion Inn

They give you rice pudding and peaches at the Lion Inn; you are 17 miles into the race and ready for it. You also have the most difficult terrain ahead of you and this is a good place to fill up. It is also a good time to put on your bog snorkelling gear. The Lyke Wake is boggy, but the next section contains the mother of all bogs. Not a bog, but a swamp; and there is no avoiding it. 

Chris and I are experienced guys, and we know how to handle bogs – you charge straight through and don’t mess about. But West Gill Head was different; the kind of place where – should you ever need to – you might choose to dispose of a body. As we moved the bog rippled underneath us. We were walking on a giant water bed; a thin crust of peat bound together by vegetation floating on a deep pool of dark-brown peaty slurry. One false move and we would break through the fragile crust and disappear into the fluid below. What fun that would be. 

So we picked our way across, finding the bigger tufts of vegetation to stand on and trying to avoid the bits in between. Chris had sensibly moved his mobile phone from his trouser pocket to higher ground. 

Now, whether the pressure just got to him, or his inner child took over and hijacked  his judgement, Chris abandoned reason and tried to romp over a section of water bed. Then he slipped through the surface and vanished into the bog. When he re-appeared he was coated from head to toe in what looked like chocolate. Didn’t smell like chocolate, though. 

Hamer Road CP

With the horrors of West Gill Head behind us, it was a pleasure to crash at the Hamer Rd checkpoint before the next challenge; Wheeldale Moor – four miles to the next CP. 

A striking feature of this hop is the Blue Man I’-th’-Moss an ancient water worn standing stone. Some helpful moron has painted a blue stick man on the stone, just in case you couldn’t work out what it was for yourself. 

The three miles from Blue Man to the Wheeldale Rd CP follow and indistinct track obscured by heavy overgrowth of heather. Though it is easy to follow, the vegetation hides the many rocks that litter the trail. With wet feet and a broken lace I stubbed my toe dozens of times – it was murder. My big toe nails turned black and dropped off a few weeks later. 

Arriving at the checkpoint was a huge relief. We bantered with the delightful people manning it, ring out my socks and re-laced my running shoes. Then Chris spotted a sign that said “30 miles over 12 miles to go”. He looked at me in wonder; we thought we had 16 miles to go. We had suddenly gained four miles and felt quite fresh; joy! We were going to make it and do a decent time! 

Then the yellow anoraks appeared over the hill behind us, it was time to go.

Up to this point we had run down the hills, jogged the flats and power walked uphill. Very tired now, we were mostly walking as quickly as we could and trying to jog easy bits. So the descent to Wheeldale Beck was stressful and the climb out of the valley pretty tough. Navigation was easy though, always heading for the distant megalithic-thingy-cum-grouse butt called Simon Howe, and from there a long steady jog downhill towards Eller Beck Bridge. 

We were now in full view of the Dark Tower of Sauron (An electronic surveillance facility run by the RAF on Fylingdales Moor) slithering on greasy white mud every step of the way to a hero’s welcome at Eller Beck. We were the first runners they had seen! 

The handicap system meant we had a staggered start; the faster runners got a decent nights kip and started later than the cannon fodder like us. Nevertheless, it felt great to be in front of everyone else. We decided to keep it that way and left the check point immediately. 

In the distance to the east we could see the silhouette of Lilla Howe, our next destination gained by following an aqueous path alongside (and often in) Eller Beck. 

Lilla was an Anglo Saxon chieftain who, according to legend, died protecting king Edwin of Northumbria from an assassin. He is said to be buried here. We paused to look at the Anglo Saxon Christian cross set on top of an Iron Age burial mound and wondered whether the story was true. Behind us, we could hear the occasional ‘toot toot’ of a steam engine on the North Yorks Moors Railway; so redolent of the Victorian era. To our right, Royal Air Force security cameras whirred and followed our every move, welcome back to the twenty-first century! 

En route for Ravenscar

From Lilla we could see the radio antenna above Ravenscar in the distance. Jogging down Fylingdales Moor on an amazingly slimy path, we tried to close the gap, jogging and walking towards Jugger Howe, but the antenna remained as distant and aloof as Greta Garbo.

Approached from the east on a summer’s day, the mellow valley of Jugger Howe, with its chattering beck and rocky outcrops, is a tranquil retreat from the bustling world. But approached from the east, at the end of the Lyke Wake Race, the arid canyon of Jugger Howe is an offense against nature, an obscene gash in the natural order of things: the gateway to Hades. 

Wet, tired, with aching legs and feet the descent into the valley was tougher than the steep climb out. But it had to be done, and with two miles to the finish we swept straight through, grabbing handfuls of jelly babies as we went; our competitors were gaining on us. Twenty minutes later we jogged past the radio mast with burning feet and aching legs. 

Now, the gorgeous expanse of Robin Hood’s Bay opened up; the very sight of it cooling us down – we had reached the ocean! Increasing our speed to a proper run, and trying to look as if we had been going at this pace all along, we smartened our act and managed to keep up appearances all the way to the finish; first over the line: we had won the Masterman Trophy!