Back in February I was anticipating in taking part in the ultramarathon “Pendle Way in a Day”. The way-marked Pendle Way path is 45 miles long and, being in the winter, the weather was an additional challenge. It was a race I’d booked prior to the pandemic and was thus almost 3 years in the making. PWIAD offers two routes, the full 45 miles plus a shorter 30 mile race which cuts out the northerly bit around the canal and instead heads straight to Wycoller. I was booked on doing the 45 miler.
Except 24 hours before the start, I picked up an inexplicable glute injury. By which I mean I have absolutely no idea what I did to cause the sharp and stabbing pain in my butt / lower back area. But the reality of trying to take on a long ultra with an acute injury generally only has one outcome.
Well two, a DNF plus a long rehab of an aggravated injury. So instead of heading to Barrowford I sulked at home. Looking back, it was a bullet dodged; my fitness wasn’t where I wanted to believe it was and the weather was horrific resulting in many DNFs and a lot of hypothermia!
As with these things, within a few days my body had decided it was fit again. Go figure. But I’ve tried the ‘give it a go and see’ approach before and it’s always gone badly, so even without the weather factor, it was the right decision.
Did someone mention a new race?
A few days after the race, the organiser advertised a new race. Same Pendle Way, but run during the night-time and somewhere around mid-summer’s day. There would be the choice of distances, but you could decide on the night. And the route would be run in reverse.
I think I’d entered my credit card details into SI Entries before I’d given it a second thought; I was so annoyed that I’d not been able to run the normal race. And the fact that it was a night race appealed too. I enjoy running by torchlight. But also the chances of me getting to race within the summer months are severely restricted given I generally end up working every day between March and October. I’ve really not got the work/life balance sorted due to the nature of my day job.
Anyway, a week before the race, final instructions were sent out. Unfortunately, due to venue issues for checkpoints, it wasn’t possible for the 45 mile route to be taken on and everyone would be running the 30 miler. I had wanted to do the longer distance, really to build upon the Guernsey race in May. I gradually (haphazardly) want to start rebuilding my long-endurance running throughout the year after the bin fire that was my running in 2021.
But I wasn’t entirely saddened by this change as the logistics of a full day’s work on Friday before the race and on Saturday immediately after it (and thus very limited sleep) was giving me cause for concern.
Pendle Way on a midsummer’s night!
So race day cometh, and I arrived in Barrowford ridiculously early as I had no idea what the Friday rush-hour traffic across the Greater Manchester network would be like. I actually stopped off at the McDonalds outside of Accrington, a place I stopped off at on my Day Release run during lockdown. It still gives me a weird satisfaction that I’ve previously run to (and beyond) that point, from home! Today it was all about getting a coffee ready for a long night ahead.
Kit check and pre-race stuff
As such I was the first to arrive at registration which started out with a full kit check. I’ve not done many races where they’ve actually checked kit (often the reserve the right to, but don’t always check everyone) and despite knowing I’d packed everything into my bag a couple of hours earlier, I was glad that it was all satisfactory. I was given my race number, a map, plus a written description of the route. Something that would be perfect to read with old eyes in the dark!!! Which is why my back-up was the GPX loaded onto my watch. Whilst the Pendle Way is a marked path, not all signs are as obvious as they could be, plus under cover of darkness the chances of blissfully sailing past a turning is increased.
I chatted to a few of the other runners; like many of the ultras I do, I tend to pick them out to do on my own rather than with a group (EfM last year was the notable exception to the rule). Most of the runners were locals (many with Trawden AC) although one chap had travelled from the other side of Cambridge to do the race! There was a general discussion about finish times although as I’d never set foot on the trail I had no idea; it all depends on the terrain. But with doing GU36 in sub 7 hours I decided that 8 hours was “probably reasonable”.
That’s also known as “plucking a number between 1 and 12 (12hr cut-off) at random”.
During the race briefing the RD (a Trawden AC member himself) highlighted the importance of camaraderie on such events before waving 50 or so runners off in the evening daylight. With an 8pm start we would have up to about 3 hours of light in the sky. And then probably 4 in the dark before the dawn rays began to creep out from being the hills. Clouds permitting.
Off to Pendle Hill (and a fall!)
We headed out of the park, across the road and immediately started climbing. The first 5km to CP1 in Barley was easy underfoot and I wasn’t sure if I’d pushed the pace a little too much initially. I got running with Sean (from Trawden) and before long we had lost sight of those in front and behind us.
The trail was easy to follow save for one junction, but the GPX confirmed we were going the right way before picking up the next way marking sign (a yellow arrow with a black witch next to it!). We soon reached the checkpoint, grabbed some sweets before heading up the road and rejoining the trail which would take us up Pendle Hill.
The trail starts off fairly moderate but then becomes steep steps which were hard work. The air temperature dropped and wind picked up as we gained elevation, just as two other runners breezed past us!
As we climbed further we exchanged positions. I went on ahead but the others took a different line to the trig, although we all got there roughly the same time. Jamie, the RD was at the trig taking photos and I was having a great time. It wasn’t to last. As I started the descent on the other side i skidded on the loose gravel and fell forward heavily, landing mostly on my left elbow and knee. The others called to check I was OK, and I said I was, but things were very cut, bruised and sore. I think i was more annoyed that I’d fallen so early in the race. Still, I could move my arm and fingers so figured nothing major was broken. They also pointed me away frmo the rocky surface and onto the grassy path that I’d missed, which was the correct route.
Pendle Hill to Higham
I took things very carefully. Whilst it’s not the most technical terrain, it was still technical. And having already crashed to the floor I didn’t want to do an encore! The other two runners were clearly much more comfortable on this terrain and within a few minutes had disappeared from view. Meanwhile Sean and I picked our way down the hill and followed the trail onwards. The light was beginning to fade and we decided the plan would be to try to get to the next checkpoint at Higham. Although this meant nothing to me in terms of distance or terrain. Sean was more familiar as the crow flies, but not so much on the trail.
We carried on along undulating farmland when we were overtaken by two more Trawden AC runners (Darren & Duncan). The two of them had a lot more experience on the trail i.e. they knew the route so it was in our best interests to try to keep up with them. So we did! And it gave me a lot more confidence than the straight lines on my watch between waypoints which jittered around the trail itself.
Just as the light was fading away, we reached CP2 at Higham where we stocked up on food, coffee was on offer, and the volunteers at the checkpoint helped clean up my elbow so it didn’t look quite as horrific! Apparently our arrival had completed the top 20 runners which was a pleasant surprise, even if the field was only about 50 runners in total!
The never-ending climb from Higham to Caldwell
Headtorches primed and focused, we headed out into the night.
This next section was definitely the trickiest in terms of navigation and I know I’d have taken twice as long without the knowledge of Darren & Duncan. We were making reasonable progress until an unlevel grassy descent where Duncan twisted his ankle.
We slowed down to a walk in the hope that it would settle and crossed the river to head into the village of Briarfield. Which would appear to be built on the side of a long long hill. We continued with the walking as there wasn’t any point trying to run as we’d no chance of making up any meaningful ground. Up and up we went until finally the housing estate stopped and we were back on trails again.
I caught a glimpse of a white owl that flew between fence posts where it observed us (it seemed) from a distance. The trail worked it’s way across Nelson golf course and whilst the path was sometimes obvious, I was very glad to have the GPX as a backup, especially when trying to pick out a left turn that would drop us down to the road. We had a short tarmac descent which was very pleasant as we seemed to have been permanently going uphill ever since dropping off Pendle Hill!
Then it was back through woodland and moorland trails with increasing amounts of foliage to negotiate. Coats were donned as a rain shower began, although that was short lived, leaving us in the awkward take of whether or not to remove coats again!
As we followed the trail up and down along the moorland there was a headtorch up ahead. It took us a long time to catch up although that was achieved in the process of trying to find where the trail was turning left (yes it had a sign, but it was dark and people were getting tired). And after what felt like forever, we saw a van parked up with big lights around it – this was checkpoint 3 in Caldwell. I had been getting increasingly thirsty so topped up on fluids, and filled my last Tailwind-filled pouch with water whilst the volunteers took a photo of the 3 Trawden AC runners (there were 5 of us in total at the checkpoint).
Of Roman Roads and rolling trails – Caldwell to Wycoller
Darren & Duncan set off at quite a pace from the checkpoint (it was a tarmac descent so easy ground) and given they knew where they were going I made sure I didn’t get left behind. However Sean and the other runner (Andy) we had caught up didn’t seem to follow so after 18-ish miles I had parted company with Sean.
The three of us were motoring along (well, relatively speaking!) and left the road to follow an easy trail which undulated eastwards, which was nice as the wind was actually helping us a bit rather than being in our faces. The other two told me about the horrors of the February race and how they had been battered by the gales and rain for the nearly-14 hours it took them to complete the 45 miles. At least tonight the rain was very sporadic and the wind, whilst gusty, wasn’t that strong, and was warm too. We chatted about finish times tonight and they had apparently run the reverse of tonight’s route in just over 7 hours in the past, so that was something that they were thinking about, although weren’t confident they would beat that time.
The checkpoint at Wycoller arrived far quicker than its predecessor, although we were able to run much more of this section. Jamie (RD) was looking after proceedings and remarked how fresh we looked. We begged to differ based on how we felt. But from this point it was 6ish miles to the finish and it was currently 0140hrs. So that meant 1h20m to cover 6 miles and beat 7 hours. Which sounds easy when you haven’t already got 24 hilly miles in your legs. But it spurred us on as it was definitely doable.
Hills, roads and hilly roads – Wycoller to Barrowford (the finish)
Again we took off at a decent pace, although that was mostly due to the terrain being downhill and not particularly technical. With about 5miles to go, we left the trails behind to predominantly follow road miles. Albeit lumpy roads, including a couple of monster climbs, at least, that’s what they felt like at the sharp end of the race. But we adopted the approach of walking up the hills and jogging down them, although it felt like easy successive running bit was shorter than the last!
We hit the top of the final hill and went into run mode. We had about 14 minutes available to cover this last half mile so, barring anything going awry, the 7 hours finish was doable. Duncan dropped back on this descent and I ran alongside Darren until we joined the final section of trail which led back to the Pendle Heritage Centre as this was too narrow to do anything other than single file.
As we crossed the road we agreed we were finishing together and ran the last few tens of metres to the finish. By my watch our time was 6h51m48s in joint-16th place. Duncan finished straight after us followed by Sean who had left the other runner and been trying to reel us back in over the last few miles.
The full results, which confirmed the timing and position, can be found here.
We collected our finishing mementos – a local beer, a themed mug and a postcard, grabbed a photo before I headed back to the car to get home!
So that was my Pendle Way on a Midsummer Night race. I really enjoyed it, although everything hurt as I drove home – thank goodness my car isn’t manual transmission! The 30 miles was plenty on this occasion; I guess I’d have taken things a bit slower had I been doing the full 45 miles so as to last the distance.
I definitely benefited from the local knowledge of Darren & Duncan which meant less time trying to work out the navigation, plus it stopped me taking things quite as easy as I might have otherwise done if I was on my own (although Sean would have caught me and told me to get myself into gear again!).
Definitely a challenge running a trail for the first time, and in the dark. It was a frustration having the fall early on, but these things happen. I headed over to A&E on the Sunday lunchtime and shoulder and elbow were both X-Rayed which confirmed no bone damage, just a bit of gnarlly soft-tissue mangling!