A Long Day

In the end I think I was up for close to 48 hours, where in a story that long do you begin? At the beginning seems a good a place as any. Saturday 07:30, the alarm goes off, I slump out of bed eat, checked everything was packed for the hundredth time, left my house, drove to Ben’s and remembered I’d forgot my trainers. Made the long trip back round the corner, collected the trainers and finally headed off closer to 9 than the planned 8:30. A breakfast stop and a guided tour of the Hatherley’s campervan and we arrived at the Anderton Centre in plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere, eat some toast and drink some tea. There had been a conversation on how long it may take, 24 to 30 hours were times banded around but it was agreed that no way, under no circumstances could we possibly go through two sunsets, that’ll just be stupid! And so at 2 pm on the Saturday we set off with the race instructions ringing in our ears and as Paul pointed out, “there’re all so positive, did you notice he reminded you to drink lots of water, not because you’ll get dehydrated and all the suffering that’ll cause but because if you don’t you’ll feel a bit more tired than you should later?” And so with such positivity coursing through our thoughts we headed off.

Start to CP1 To Slipper Lowe

Onwards to CP1, a steady climb up to Jubilee Tower. Paul sped off into the distance, assumption being so he could retire quicker! Ben and I ran together, though he seemingly became obsessed with wanting to run up hills. I blamed the heat. Let them crack on I thought, it’s hot and we’ve got a long way to go. CP1 was at Slipper Lowe car park. A quick re fill of water and some food, cheese was the surprising discovery here, so after a few chunks we were off again towards Darwin Tower.

CP1 to CP2 To Fenscliffe

I was over heating badly on this stage, it was a real struggle. The only thoughts I had were ones of retirement, if I feel this rough now how on earth can I do 100 miles? The stage ended with a gentle stroll down the canal (going against the run the flat part tactic, may be I should have ran the up hills!) and into probably the biggest checkpoint on the route! The greatest discovery here was that Tracey had cups and so Ben and I were able to borrow them and have a cup of tea. Boy did I need one.

CP2 – CP3 To Whally

Almost took a little navigation error, in the park I knew it was right through the trees but for some reason I wanted to take the second turning not the first marked bridleway. I blame google earth, it all looked like in went eventually in the same direction! In truth it didn’t if we had got to my path 10 meters further on seen it didn’t go the way I wanted we’d have just had to re-traced footsteps so it saved us a little. It helped that another person came along to aid the discussion, sometimes the more people the merrier at these points! This was the longest stage at 11.2 miles but once completed it would mean just over a quarter of the route complete but only a third of checkpoints visited so after this it just felt like things would get easier. Things were again going well navigationally and we made good progress. At a point of uncertainty a couple of runners ambled by so we were able to follow them. Then though a housing estate and we’d made it to the golf course (competition had finished so no marshal sadly to guide us). Across the course and then off to the water point. Ahead, we saw the familiar shape of Paul watching us approach, he’d retired at the water point. When Ben and I arrived we found water was in short supply given the warm conditions. Paul offered to fetch some more supplies, I ate a banana. Resting against Tracey’s mum’s car bonnet I could have happily retired there and then. Ben had already made reference to his retirement intention when we got to CP3, here at the water point I wondered if he too may opt out here instead and I’d have followed in a heartbeat. After a few minutes we decided to crack on, we had to do at least 28 miles surely? We arrived into Whalley in the early evening, about 20:40. Beans on toast was served and washed down with a cup of tea. Ben um’d and arr’d about continuing but having suffered flu like symptoms the previous week I think he made the right decision and retired. I’m not sure if it was the running or the pint afterwards but he said later he felt a lot better and maybe could have continued. After this I decided to go on, I was feeling better now having cooled down and so made my way to the door and left Whalley and my running comrades behind. Even though I was one of the last to leave I was reliably informed that I’d soon be catching walkers.

CP3 – CP4 To Barley

As early evening fell I questioned my decision. Why had I choose to still carry my sunglasses? Why have I got these perched on my head? Why did I not just leave them with the support crew? I’m bound to lose them and at some point and that’ll just plain annoy me. Anyway, running had already become a bit sporadic but when on the flat I was still doing a passable jog, I caught and passed a few walkers (the prophecy had been correct!) and made my way towards Old Clithero Road which would see the first part of open moorland. I arrived there with darkness falling, no walkers behind. Gulp, into the dark night I must go, armed with my head torch, compass, map and Garmin GPS which was doing a grand job pointing me in roughly the right direction, so not all bad. But then things got better, up and over this first little climb and I could see walkers! Oh blessed am I! Loads of them. Great, follow those Mr Mason and all will be good, all your navigation requirements will be sorted! Then things got a little scary. Whilst following the walkers up hill in the twilight they all appeared to stop, sit down and turn their head lights off. This I found curious. Even though I quickly worked out that they hadn’t stopped en mass waiting to kill me and all I was looking at were the outlines of bushes and rocks the thought had been placed in my head. What if I were attacked what on earth would I do? Were the witches of Pendle Hill starting to infect my mind? A couple of right hand reflective turn markers directed me right and gentle jogging and jumping over the worst bit of marshes led me onwards towards Barley. Whilst following one group of walkers one fell into a marsh puddle, after asking if he were ok I decided to leave his group to help him whilst I sped off into the night. I half wondered if my attempts to pass them had unsighted him causing the fall. Best not to hang around and have such a discussion I thought, nothing good can come from that. On the final stretch into Barley I caught up with a big drop of walkers and progress slowed as I had no choice to follow down a single file path. This did give me chance to have a chat with a fellow runner who had also suffered through the daytime heat and so we shared our collective pain. At the checkpoint a heart stopping moment as there was a spot check for kit. All I had to do was delve into a bag full of balls with bits of kit written on them and then show the corresponding bit of kit. Oh please don’t be survival bag. I got maps, with a look of a man who had just won the lottery (albeit one where as a winner you get to continue on a hugely tiring journey) I showed my two maps nicely attached to the strap on my back pack. Pleased as punch that I hadn’t had to take anything out of the back pack (as re-packing would have been a nightmare) I was then free to go into the checkpoint and enjoy soup and cake, oh and more tea. I think it was at this checkpoint that Paul promoted himself to the important jobs of water filler and general motivator. After layering up it was then back into the night to climb Pendle Hill.

CP4 – CP5 To Downham

Soon after leaving the checkpoint I noticed it was cold. A bit further on I turned onto the lower slopes of Pendle Hill, I knew this wasn’t a particularly long stage at 4.6 miles but it did have one very large 551 meter climb in it! As I glanced upwards I was pleased to see many head torches heading up, a quick stop to put my gloves on I then too joined the head torch parade and bounded up the hill. After the gentle lower slope things took a sudden more upward turn. It was steep. Very steep. It must have been mid night (still not far off the 15 min mile pace I had hoped for) but one look to my left showed how steep. It was slip down there and you will fall a long way and there’s not a lot of stuff to grab to stop the fall. And it was quite narrow which meant passing people in some sections wasn’t an option. Pendle Hill was also the sight of the first of four self-clips. At the start I did ask what these would look like but didn’t really get an answer but I was about to find out. The first self-clip was a witch. Two in fact. Very nice witches as they gave me a quick heads up on the route I needed to take to reach the summit. Summit duly found and after a bit of confusion the path down located and so I sped up again (but only a little as it was a steep technical descent made even more trickier by it being dark). Off the hill, across a road, over a stile and the last person in the group of walkers I was following fell down the other side of a ladder stile. I checked if he was ok, a little bit winded but fine and he said he was going to take a moment before continuing. I took this as it was ok for me to quicken my pace and catch the other walkers, I had navigation that I wanted to avoid doing in the dark. And so I arrived at Downham. I know I had a cup of tea and I can remember the hall but what I ate there, no idea. Best I leave the check point then.

CP5 – CP6 To Bolton by Bowland

I left the check point with a small group but quickly moved away from them, seeing another group ahead I reasoned I’d quicken my pace and catch them for the trickier navigation later in the stage. This didn’t go to plan. After crossing pack bridge (take care, rough ground no sides) I slowly closed onto my prey. I stopped, checked notes, looked up and they had gone. OK, I’ll regain them in sight across these fields, nope. Vanished. For navigation I’d have to rely upon me. At the next village all I had to do was follow the road past the pub and over the river but I almost went straight on (well I did for about 10 metres before realising there was no bridge!). After that I took things steady, I was on full concentration mode now. At one point, even though I could see where the route was going (250 plus walkers in front don’t half flatten stuff giving a well-defined path for those following!), I decided to re-join the “official” route adding a few meters onto my journey as opposed to follow the well-trodden route I was on. I’d decided there was to be no navigation errors. After feeling quite pleased with life after my navigational master class I started to jog into Bolton by Bowland and all my happiness left, I could feel that old foe blisters on the bottom of my toes. A feeling I’d had nearing the end of the Bullock Smithy so I instantly knew what had occurred and what needed to be done. After the blisters were taped it was the standard check point. Paul filled water, gentle encouragement was given, and then Paul’s encouragement began. And then off again, this time with the added bonus of a slice of pizza.

CP6 – CP7 To Tosside

Being that I was now a long way behind the original plan, 30 hour minimum was already in my mind and I could cope with that, not sure if I knew the real time it was going to take I could. Anyway, running was now a little bit painful, I did try and manage a little jog but it was even more sporadic. As day was breaking and remembering the weather forecast I knew that the rain was on its way. The sky was clear though so I thought may be its moved back a bit, may be we’re going to miss it. I stopped to put my head torch away and a few walkers passed me noting that rain was on its way. Looking up in the direction of travel I was happy it wasn’t so carried on without waterproofs. A field or two later and at the top of a slight raise I had a quick check to see where my walker friends were, still following I hope. Yes they were and oh my god what’s that in the sky? Dark as dark could be clouds and clearly they were raining! Mild panic set in as I didn’t really want to take shoes off on grass to put waterproofs on (even with the waterproof socks on!), fortunately there was a farm track to my left so I joined that and dressed for the weather. Thankfully the rain didn’t hit straight away which gave me time to sort my hood out and generally work out the little things, like how was I going to drink with my back pack under my cost? Turns out unzipping coat to allow access to camel pack straw also aided cooling, win win. And so on to Tosside, tough going as the feet were far from happy but I arrived at 6am, half way in 16 hours. Somewhere I’d had a double dessert not sure if it was here, a previous CP or a later one! At Slaidburn I’d have gone further than a Bullock Smithy Paul kindly reminded me as I bemoaned blisters. After contemplating it for short while I decided to go on as if things weren’t going well I could always phone the support team up and get picked up.

CP7 – CP8 To Slaidburn

And so with blisters that weren’t happy I walked back out into the rain. I soon realised running wasn’t a good idea, it was just a bit too painful. I did try to as a couple in front of me jogged away but unable to match their gentle looking pace they headed off into the mist never for these fair eyes to settle on them again. I’d assumed I’d be walking this in the dark and I thought that may prove a challenge through the featureless forest sections but in the daylight no such issues! Route notes in daylight a lot easier to follow as you can clearly see what it refers to. Found the self-clip, no witches this time just clips attached to a bridge. Thankfully the rain had eased a little by this point as I had to remove coat and back pack to get to my tally card which was a right old faff, and then next was simply to walk out of the forest section. On those rocky/stony paths I was far from happy. My overriding thought was I could txt the support team an SOS map reference and they could come pick me up when this path joined the road. As this dark thought of retirement swirled in my mind a couple of walkers caught me up, this in its self was a surprise as I hadn’t been passed by anyone for a good 30 miles. I did the passing in these parts! Still I did the only think you can do in these situations and share my dark thought with these two, who in fairness did seem impressed by the level of planning I’d put into my eminent retirement. As the second walker went pass he noted how well I was walking and went on to tell me the time he retired in Scotland on the 100. Blisters had stopped him walking and it took 3 hours for him to get down off a hill. Again that LDWA positive attitude, not making light of my predicament but pointing out it could be worse. Well, I thought, I can still walk and then I mumbled something about getting to Slaidburn, the LDWA positive attitude had struck and I was continuing. I tried to keep them in sight and generally managed this to aid my waning spirits and then as Slaidburn came into view I managed to catch up with them and walk into the check point slightly ahead! One did duly note that he thought I was retiring a few miles ago and then asked would I go on? Well you know….. Breakfast can do wonderful things, that and I change of socks. After a long first cup of tea to cool down (mainly drank outside) and after a small breakfast and urged on by a growing support crew of Ben, Paul, Tracy & Mr & Mrs Hatherley I entered back into the fray. I had told my MD who lives locally that I’d be in the village in the early hours, it was 10am ish when I left.

CP8 - CP9 To Dunsop Bridge

Not an overly eventful leg bar the need for a public convenience in Newton (it didn’t have one), that and no phone coverage meant I was somewhat committed to get to Dunsop Bridge as quick and steadily as I could. It was the first time I felt proper tired but with five of us on this section keeping the others in sight made life a lot more manageable. After a first brief stop at the first toilet I could find in Dunsop Bridge another walker in a yellow t-shirt caught me up. Standard me chat on these occasions “I’ll probabaly retire here” yellow t-shirt “why”, me “my feet, the blisters, the time it’s taking” him “what were you expecting? What else were you going to do this weekend?” As the answer was walk/run a 100 miles I had nothing else. Yet another positive person putting pay to my retirement plans. Dam them. I believe it was at this point I decided I was going to give this a dam good go. Somewhat begs the question as to what had I been up to till here!? Moving swiftly on, at Dunsop Bridge it was pointed out I how knew the route, yes and I also knew there was one big climb to do very soon. Still, I was in completing this mode now so ha, I laugh at hills. A man form Kent branch of LDWA had a look at my feet, another lady passed on some compede blister plasters and I ate some dongnuts, all was good. Except the man going on about the army, I believe some members of the support crew had to move away for his own safety.

CP9 – CP10 To Chipping

Out of the checkpoint and in full completion mode I marched off, no need to even carry notes as I knew the route that well. Feet were feeling good for the first time in nearly 20 miles, come on team me! Up the first steep hill, ha look at you lot going more up to the right, suckers it’s straight up and hug that gully! Into the woods, out the other side, helped a man and his wife shut a gate and then gone, whoosh, I was flying in a walking quick kinda way. One curious thing I noted on these later stages, about two thirds into them I’d get hungry I so would normally need a snack to get me though the remaining stage. I’d become almost agile in that I could just get a hand into the side pouch of my back pack to get to the food and a quick fumble would normally free a little treat. On my way into the checkpoint Paul thrust his phone into my hand, it was Nikki, she was at the wrong checkpoint but at least she was in the right county. Spirits raised, a bottle coke purchased and into the checkpoint. First time ever I was on my own in the CP, no supported allowed and so no Paul to fill my water. So whilst I was trying to put a nunn tablet into it I managed to spill a good portion of its contents over myself! The good old LDWA members who staff the check points didn’t batter an eyelid, a mop was fetched, and I muttered some apologies and duly departed.

CP10 – CP11 To Hurst Green

Nikki and Kathryn arrived to swell the numbers of the support crew further and after a brief chat I was off. Life was good, the sun was shining and I still had my sunglasses. Next up another climb but at the top of this one I could have a quick swig of reward coke cola! And so I did. Then around another turn and in front of me I was slowly catching up with my favourite scene, lots of walkers! A man who had retired offered me some food from quite an extensive collection, I took a few sweets and pushed on. I honestly would struggle to think of an occasion where I’d accept random food from a random stranger in a random location and take his word that he’d retired from an event, tiredness does odd things to you. Anyhow, I couldn’t chat for long as I had walkers to chase down! Almost upon them and they seemed to be going the long way round to reach the path, one lone fella had gone straight on. I reasoned I’d follow him, it was shorter. And wetter. Jumping form one tuft of grass to the next I’d clearly taken the harder route and with water now oozing out of my trainers as I walked it was like a mark of route planning shame. I had to carry the burden for the next few miles, each squelching step reminding me of the folly of my route choice. Still my feet were dry proving the successes of the waterproof socks. Got to look at the positives. During this I’d overheard a conversation, only two miles to the checkpoint, boom, half hour max and I’ll be there. Down towards Hurst Green I saw a women walking up from the other direction, a quick glance over and a quick conversation followed, me “how far’s the checkpoint” her “oh, don’t take me being here as its close, it’s taken me 45 minutes to get here!” Someone was lying here. I decided two miles clearly had been an optimistic guess but her 45 mins was up hill so she was clearly wrong form the start, so I concluded both had lied! Seemed the easiest solution that my tired brain could cope with I had a bit of a worry after this, had I come the right way? I’d passed all the walkers and the route description wasn’t quite following but my now hazy memory of google maps had suggested that all routes kind of led to Hurst Green so as long as I maintained this direction I’d arrive. Then I passed a house, found it in the route description, a little confidence restored I appeared into Hurst Green, only one more leg of unknown then it was 15 miles of recced route to the finish. Support crew were allowed into this CP, Paul was back onto his water duty, food was eaten (cheese covered crumpets possibly my favourite) and off I went again. Only concern now was, how long was this going to take as it was 6:30pm and I’d been going for 28.5 hours with still just shy of 25 miles to go. Oddly enough it never occurred to me that I’d completed three quarters of the route at this point, the only thought was completion!

CP11 – CP12 To Mellor Brook

Standard route of passing walkers, they had been going four hours longer than me in fairness, and following the well-trodden route through grass fields. As darkness began to fall for the second time (I was reminded of me and Ben’s chat many hours earlier that seeing night fall twice would be daft), I had my first route panic, “pass green machinery, and rusty machinery then turn left down an unmarked footpath.” What the hells an unmarked footpath and where’s all this machinery!?? Fearing I’d gone wrong I did a quick about turn, I’d not long passed a couple of walkers and so headed in their direction to see if they knew. Not long and two ladies appeared (not the people I was expecting), a quick discussion and they knew the way but boy did they have a march on. Keeping a pace we motored along, apparently a tricky section was coming up and they wanted to complete this stage in daylight as once dark it’ll be a nightmare. Mr Mason you’ve got lucky again, stay with these and this nightmare shall end soon. It then took a turn for the better, the route had been changed and we were directed to the road as the nightmare section was too much of a nightmare for the organisers to allow us to attempt it in the dark. I wasn’t going to argue. To the road, a right and a long stretch into Mellor Brook. The only problem was I had no idea where this road was nor how long I was going to be on it and where it’d bring me out in Mellor Brook. And neither did my support team! I arrived alone and left alone. Even filled my own water bladder.

CP12 – CP13 To Hoghton

And now I was on the recce route, homeward bound! Only 16 miles to go and it was about 10:15pm when I left the CP. A 2am finish, possibly? My memory somewhat deserted me on this stage, could I remember the route, no. Plus I had a couple of stops on route, firstly to remove some dirt from my trainers before it rubbed the side of my foot into a blister, I was finishing this now and wanted to do so in some comfort! And a second unexpected rendezvous with my support team who realised they’d miss me, met the person I’d told to look out for them that I’d left the CP and had then duly searched the back roads to find me and pass on some important flap jack! I’d ran out of food on my person so I knew this would be a god send in a few miles time. This was the longest stage in terms of time, 5.1 miles took me three and a half hours, that’s 41 minute miling! I wish I could remember falling asleep somewhere but alas I didn’t. Truth is my memory had failed me so badly I had no confidence in where I was going so was constantly checking the route description. On one track I was reading it and almost went from one side of the track to the other and into a hedge. Note to self don’t read and walk, not good in the dark! As bits and bobs came back I was then able to lead a small group up towards the railway crossing, having been up for bout 36 hours crossing a railway line wasn’t something I was jumping for joy at doing. Still no drama, except in my mind where we did this after the Hoghton CP! Anyway, to Hoghton CP, I arrived. Slight change in support crew so Ben was tasked with filling the water, as Paul and Tracey were away, more food eaten and tea drank and I was off again. 10.8 miles to go.

CP13 – CP14 To Brinscall

This stage was only 4.5 miles but they didn’t half squeeze a lot in! It had canal tow path, farmers drive and fields and it finished through a housing estate. A little bit of everything for everyone. On the tow path had to tell myself not to read notes, check time all do anything except walk, it was the only way I could be certain of not accidently walking into the canal! Made it through and caught up with another walker who I then walked with to the finish. This proved a good partnership as it enabled us to check the route and for him to stumble through many puddles, meaning I didn’t. I had to avoid laughing on a few occasions as I felt a little bad that he kept stumbling through them, though I’m not 100% sure he noticed what he’d done half the time! After negotiating the tricky housing estate we emerged at the check point with full support crew back out in force. And a big thank you to all of them who had to endure their own sleep deprivation following me around from check point to check point, keeping me going for a brief few minutes to then sit around waiting for me to reappear at the next check point,without them I’m not sure I’d have gone on. Food, tea and some more food and off for the final 6.1 mile section, it must have been pushing 3 am when we left, could we complete it in darkness or would I see my second sunrise in two days!?

CP14 – CP15 To Anderton Centre

When we left my companion asked about my blisters as he’d seen me hobbling about in the check point, I explained that after sitting for a few minutes my feet tended to need a bit of time before they got going again but I’d be back to walking normally in five minutes or so. And so it proved to be, soon after leaving I was walking like this was a gentle stroll along a river! As this had been the routine for about the last four check points it had just become normal. I think that’s how I’d gotten round, the event had become the norm of my existence. It was what I did. Stopped, ate, drank, walked repeat. Possibly the time it had taken and the slower pace of walking had allowed it to become the norm without me really realising that it had happened. Even now having ran a bit and walked a lot, going 100 miles is something I’ve done, it wasn’t easy but neither was it excessively hard, it just, well, happened. The final stretch did drag on and with my head torch starting to fade and with no spare batteries on me I was pleased to see sun rise! After endless walking round reservoirs we finally found the narrow stile that led to road, notes could be put into pocket in the safe knowledge that the Anderton Centre wasn’t far off. After more walking alongside a reservoir we emerged onto the path we’d both came down many many hours earlier, my companion had found a new lease of life and was off, being he’d started four hours earlier than me I decided I didn’t need to catch him as I doubted he’d walk four hours of time into me in about half a mile, my finishing position was safe! Then a left onto the Anderton Centre’s long drive and finally into the finish hall, with the ringing of the bell, the applause, my tally card cut lose I was free. I’d completed the LDWA Red Rose 100 in 39 hours and 15 minutes. I was then led to a seat and was waited upon for all my tea and food needs allowing me to sit quietly trying to contemplate what I’d just done.