At 90 miles, the Dales High Way Ultra was the longest race I have run. It was a brutal course over a remote and unforgiving landscape. It wasn’t a race that I had originally planned to run, however given the travel ban, I was unable to make it to Costa Rica for my first race of 2021. After little racing last year, I was just so keen to get out on the course, any course!
It was a staggered start from Saltaire. It was a shame not to see many other runners but also quite nice to be able to turn up and set off without much hanging around, especially given the weather. Tracker attached and ready to go!
Due to recent lockdowns, the first 10 miles was the only part of the course I had been able to reccy and as it's not far from home it was an area I was pretty familiar with. Rain turned to snow over Ilkley Moor and by the time I reached the first checkpoint in Addingham, I was thoroughly soaked. Just prior to reaching the CP, a large dog bit me on the bum (I kid you not!), so it was an eventful start. Suffering from Raynaud's, my main concern was keeping my hands dry and warm. My racing mittens (what was I thinking?) were swapped for my ski mittens with hand warmers. A quick coffee and some food and I was off.
From Addingham, I passed through Skipton (rolling my left ankle, not on a rocky path or tricky descent, but on a road curb!) and then on to the next CP in Hetton at mile 23. Time for some sandwiches and tea! From here the course became remote other than dropping into villages for CP’s.
I whizzed through the CP at Janet's Foss without stopping. My road support missed this CP, but I was feeling good and powered on. Up and over Malham, it was nice to see a few walkers braving the weather. I’m friendly and say hello to everyone I pass!
By the time I reached Settle, the rain had eased considerably. Fresh socks, fresh gloves & hand warmers, a strong coffee and I was on my way.
From Settle to Feizor, the rain had stopped. If I’m honest, I can’t really remember much about this section but I know I enjoyed my Jaffa Cakes when I got to the end of it!
On reaching Chapel-Le-Dale, I was pretty sure the worst of the weather was behind me, so it was time for fresh trainers and they felt so good. Unfortunately, they didn’t stay dry for long! The ground was so boggy and wet over the entire course. Only a couple of miles up the road at the next CP (my road crew couldn’t access it, hence meeting me at Chapel-Le-Dale). I was pretty pleased to get a bowl of warm soup and great chatting to the wonderful volunteers and I was off.
I needed a bit of a pick me up so popped my music on. I never normally listen to music when racing and so I didn’t have my headphones. However, being so remote I just played it from my phone. It was a nice distraction, however I was starting to get a little stuck in my head. A song came on that I didn’t like and I was irrationally angry about it and so the music went off. This was the start of my mind playing tricks on me. I was starting to get angry that so much of the course was so unforgiving you couldn’t really run it. I was questioning why I was out here, why I push myself to run these incredibly long races and promising to myself I would stick to races around 40 miles, which I consider to be my sweet spot. I tackled Ingleborough, which was wild and windy, so I was pleased to have that out of the way, but by the time I came into Chapel-le Dale I was starting to feel sick.
Here I had a bottle of sports drink and half a loaf of ginger cake and I felt better and ready to go. Starting to get dark, I swapped my cap for a woolly hat and the head torch went on. I left this CP with two other runners given I was feeling a little unwell and it was getting dark. We only ran together for a little while. I never normally run with others and on a race like this, you really must run your own pace depending on how you are feeling. I soon left them behind and headed on into the darkness alone.
Dent to Sedbergh was a relatively short distance and by now, I was feeling a lot better but incredibly nervous about the Howgills. I have to say, I absolutely hated going over the Howgills! Visibility dropped to about a metre and my mind was playing tricks on me. I was constantly swearing and getting angry. Angry at the Howgills in general, angry at myself for being here. With such low visibility, I was constantly losing the path and I felt like I was zig zagging around, running over incredibly difficult ground. I just wanted to come down, but it seemed to take an age before I finally dropped down to Wath.
I was pretty emotional at this point, but at no time on the entire course did I ever contemplate stopping. I had two friends meeting me at every CP and it was their support and encouragement that kept me going. Every photo I have in a CP, I’m smiling and that’s thanks to them. Feeling sick again, I drank another sports drink and had a banana. Often on long runs, I stop eating when I start to feel unwell and generally don’t eat enough anyway. However, having food constantly thrust at me was an absolute game changer and definitely got me through.
By now, all I could think about was counting down the miles, but it was starting to feel like time was standing still and each mile felt like it took an hour.
I passed through the final CP at Great Asby. It was light now. I knew the final section was fairly short and runnable, but I left feeling a little worried about my friends. They had now been up for 24 hours, driving around remote areas, looking after me like pros, keeping my spirits up but I could tell they were flagging. They aren’t ultra-runners and I was worried perhaps I hadn’t fully prepared them for what crewing would involve.
I was so happy to finally arrive at the finish in Appleby. The first thing I saw was my friends jumping around and cheering me in. I had done it!
23 hours and 28 minutes.
I was really pleased with 2nd place overall, just 32 minutes behind the winner.
Yet again, I cannot thank the race director, the volunteers and my friends enough. These amazing people allow lunatics like me to be able to fulfil our crazy running ambitions.
Lots learnt on this run. I always thought I wasn’t cut out for running in the wild British weather. I guess I proved to myself that I am, but I definitely know I don’t like it! Somewhere hot for my next adventure please! Secondly, I proved to myself I can cover these long distances. My next race will be 100 miles, what’s an extra 10 when you’ve already done 90!