Once upon a time….
In a world pre-covid I saw a few social media posts about a race called Pendle Way in a Day (PWIAD). It’s a winter ultra in East Lancashire, following the full 45 miles of the Pendle Way. At the time I was just back from volunteering on The Spine Race and was in pretty good shape running wise so the idea of doing a winter ultra was something that really appealed. Having done Escape from Meriden and the Bullock Smith the previous autumn, 45 miles didn’t seem out of reach to tackle.
Of course, following entry, the pandemic happened and the race was postponed. During which time I wasn’t doing quite the volume of running I’d have liked to maintain a sufficient level of fitness. In the end my place rolled over to 2022 and I was set to do the race only to pick up a mystery (phantom?) glute pull the day before the race
To all intents and purposes, missing last year’s race was a bullet dodged as the weather was especially nasty resulting in a high attrition rate and horror stories of being thoroughly battered by the storm that blew through.
Either way I was pretty miffed that I hadn’t managed to do this long-anticipated race and as such set about entering for the 2023 edition.
As you will know if you’ve read my previous posts, my run up to this race has seen limited training due to the persistent heel bursitis that has plagued me since last summer, ironically making my previous summer visit to the Pendle Way (to tackle the shorter 30 mile route) my most recent outing with a race number attached.
We’re walkers you know!
I’d arranged to travel with Reb, Helen and Sam; Reb & Helen took part in the apocalypse that was 2022 PWIAD (30 mile route) and despite the trauma had decided to return to do the 45 miler. But given how long last year’s race took due to the conditions they had elected to set off with the walkers, an hour earlier. I mulled about making my own way for the start of the runners wave, but having had 8 months off, concluded that starting a bit earlier would be sensible as I envisaged a lot of walking anyway!
But again things wouldn’t be simple. Following an Oregon Circuits session with Marple runners on the Monday before race day I ended up with serious pain in my left hamstrings. I presumed I’d somehow managed to tear something and couldn’t believe that yet another race was in jeopardy. Thankfully, it turned out to be DOMS, and a test jog the day before the race confirmed that everything was fine (24 hours previous I could barely walk!)
We arrived in Barley with about 25 minutes to spare. Normally the race runs from Barrowford, with Barley being the final checkpoint before the finish, but due to logistics, the 2023 route started with what would have been the final 3 miles of PWIAD and then on to do the remaining 42 miles. There was a comprehensive kit check before number collection and after necking another cup of coffee we were stood outside ready to start at 7am.
Barley to Earby
With starting an hour earlier it did mean we began in the dark although head torches were turned off well before Barrowford. The ground was wet underfoot, but at least the forecast was decent for most of the day, with bad weather coming in after dark. There were about 9 of us starting together, one lady immediately disappeared off into the distance (it turned out she’d completed the 45 mile course in just over 10 hours, so speedy even compared to the runners). We trotted along for the first section, Sam tended to drop back and catch up the other three of us.
We’d been wandering for about 2 hours before the leading men of the runners passed us. So they’d covered the same distance in half the time, which was impressive as it wasn’t easy terrain once we’d left the river bank. A little while later and there was a steady stream of runners passing us; this middle section was slow for me but at least once we (finally) got to the canal section I could make some progress, although Reb & Helen dropped back. So I ran alone for a significant part of the race, which wasn’t intended, but that’s what happens sometimes.
The first checkpoint took forever to reach. It was in Earby at about 16 miles. I’d already dropped into the Red Lion pub beforehand as I was desperate for the loo, but actually the checkpoint wasn’t much further on. Just a few sweets there and I continued on.
Running friends from previous events
Two things became apparent. One I got a stone in my shoe, which I had to stop to removed. And also it turned out my bludgeoning big toe had destroyed the toe sock I was wearing. It was readjusted but quickly escaped again. I also tried using my poles as we got out onto the trail again and I discovered just how unfit I was using them. I wasn’t making up very much time and gradually slipped into quite a deep low. I was caught up by Allan Parkin who I’d not run with since the very start of the pandemic and it was nice to talk to him. He was having GPS issues with his watch and was latching onto other runners to keep himself straight. We walked for maybe a mile before another group overtook us and as he was moving much better than me he joined them.
Earby – Wycoller
I’d been avoiding looking at my watch but was sure I must be on about 21 miles, so when I accidentally caught a glimpse to discover it was only 19 miles, my head decided to go south completely. To the point that I was definitely going to drop out at the next checkpoint. Absolutely, the fun factor wasn’t there. But a little further one I realised that, as usual, I hadn’t been eating very much and shoved a flapjack and packet of mini cheddars down my throat, discovering also that I couldn’t swallow that well as I was dehydrated! Needless to say, having added some calories and fluids I began to feel a bit better!
A little further along I was passed by another group of runners, and recognised Duncan & Darren whom I ran with last summer. They were moving really well and whilst I tried to keep them in sight, they were soon gone. However it did spur me on to get moving a little better.
By the time I reached the Wycoller checkpoint, they were leaving, but I got my waters topped up and swapped over, had (another) toilet stop – my innards clearly not happy to be ultra-running today and shuffled on up the hill. It was slow as the path was quite muddy but the clear weather made for an enjoyable section. I was alone but could see another couple of runners up ahead.
Wycoller – Coldwell
There was a long section of open moorland to cover and it seemed to be in a permanent headwind. It wasn’t cold (although I was wearing all my kit) but the wind made it harder work. I caught up to another 45 mile runner and we ran/walked together for a bit. I was finding it hard work but he seemed to be cruising comfortably. But having seen a couple of older walkers (not in the event) covering this section I decided that if they could do this then I definitely could! Positive thinking at last!
After a long time we emerged on the road and the Coldwell checkpoint was actually not far from here; in the summer event the equivalent checkpoint was way up the hill, so this was good. To be honest, I didn’t feel great when I got there. But they were serving hot drinks and there were crisps so I was able to get some caffeine and some salt in me, plus filling up my drink bottles again. Probably the most ‘exciting’ toilet trip of the day in a portaloo that was incredibly wobbly, to the point when you’re thinking there must be someone outside actively shaking it!
Coldwell – Higham
I still wasn’t feeling 100% and pondered stopping again, but ultimately carried on. They warned me that the mud was horrendous, and it was. But by that point my feet had been wet and muddy for hours so another dosage of mud wasn’t going to make a lot of difference. The climb up was tough and I saw no other racers, just a lady out running with her dogs in the other direction.
After a lot of mud I emerged at a ford on the road and stumbled slowly up the tarmac. It was quite a steep incline but I was definitely feeling the miles in the body now!
The section which led to Nelson golf course was one I remembered from the summer race. Except this time it was a long climb up through muddy fields which sapped all energy in the process! At least once across the golf course it was into a housing estate with a good couple of miles of descent although the quads weren’t convinced. But it was predictable and straightforward. A couple of runners came past me and I followed them into the mud-fest of the fields at the bottom.
This section which ultimately takes you from Reedley to the checkpoint at Higham was a series of twisting trails across muddy fields. I remembered running this section in the summer in the dark and being glad to be with Duncan & Darren who knew the route as it seemed complicated. I realised I just wanted to get through the section in the daylight whilst I could still make progress.
Having survived the mud it was then a long slow climb up to Higham village as the last of the light was fading. A couple of the runners who I’d seen during that last section suddenly emerged from a different road, having taken an unexpected detour and we all arrived at the checkpoint together.
The usual toilet routine followed by a vegan hotdog and coffee, although I forewent the whisky. I don’t drink anyway, but I thought alcohol at that stage was probably (!) a bad idea. Those other runners went before I was ready, but Ian & Mandy, who were doing the 30 mile route were ready to go as I was leaving and I suggested we should stick together as this was a tough section of navigation and we were now in the dark. Oh and the rain and wind had arrive as well.
Into the night (and the weather)
Whilst gingerly heading down a dark mud river, the lady who had set off before me at the checkpoint suddenly appeared, having done circles around the route on her own, so the four of us bumbled our way out through Higham and onto the final section of trail which would eventually take us up Pendle Hill. We bumped into a couple of guys who were equally baffled by where the trail was going, and so our extended group picked our way through mud and more mud whilst the wind got ever stronger and the rain harder. I knew broadly where we were going on this section but finding the paths was difficult. You couldn’t see the waypoint signs and we were comparing GPS positions regularly to make sure we were going in the right direction.
We successfully navigated the steep woodland although I had several attempts at trying to fall over. The poles now being used to keep me upright. As we passed the reservoir, things went completely to pot!
Getting lost on Pendle Hill
Ths GPX line seemed to be out of reach and we couldn’t get to it. We followed where it seemed to take us, but then it was on the other side of a wall. Ultimately we decided it safer to cross the wall but it still seemed out of the way. As I got my waterproof trousers on, the others went on and it was suddenly a worse case scenario of being on the side of a hill in bad weather with precious little clue as to where the path was. Another runner came past me and I followed him up the hill. We were heading for the trig and so ‘up’ was the right direction, but there seemed to be precious little path. The GPX line seemed to always be just out of reach so we continued in an upward direction, hoping to join the missing path eventually. The other runner then dropped back as he was with others and he didn’t want to lose them, and so I carried on, occasionally seeing head torches reflecting off the rain some way ahead of me. Even when I was finally back on the path, it didn’t seem that much better, but at least I was back on course. Until I wasn’t. I found myself on a stony path which I know runs to the side of the Pendle Way, but given it also leads up to the trig point it seemed foolish to leave it behind. I’d been on my own again for quite a while and whilst I was warm enough and knew where I was going (up!) I felt very exposed to danger in the wild conditions. But then, there it was, the trig and I knew the ascent was complete.
On any other hill, the descent would be less traumatic. At least as I dropped down I was shielded from the wind and rain. And I was somewhat confused when Ian & Mandy appeared over a stile; they’d clearly taken a wrong turn. They were surprised to see me as they thought I’d gone ahead with the others, which is a bit scary when you realise people don’t actually know where you are! But the descent is on uneven, often slick rocks. And I was thoroughly in ‘wobbly bob’ territory and was taking all my effort to keep myself upright. Again the poles saved me. But it was good to be doing this sketchy section with other people as it would be too easy to fall and get hurt. This is definitely where being a fast front runner is a benefit as coming over Pendle Hill in daylight would have been a lot easier than in the stormy dark conditions that most of the runners faced.
In addition, in the daylight you can see how far you’ve got to go. I knew it was only about 1.5 miles but with no visual references the descent seemed a lot further than it actually was. Looking up Pendle Hill you could see headtorches following down the steps.
And to the finish
But eventually we hit the tarmac. We talked about jogging in and quickly dismissed that as a silly idea. A couple of people ran past. But this was the nice thing about being listed as a walker; I wasn’t competing, I was completing so it didn’t bother me (aside from that, all these 45 mile runners had 1 hour on me anyway). And finally we were back at Barley. 44.95 miles on my watch, I was too exhausted to jog around a bit to make it 45 miles. I’d finally completed the PWIAD race, and the full distance too. My time was 13 hours 22 minutes which, given I was aiming at 14-15 hours of walking, I was happy with.
I got inside had more coffee and crisps and biscuits- there didn’t seem to be any actual food unfortunately. A vat of hot soup wouldn’t have gone amiss! Sam arrived back about 20 minutes after me and Reb & Helen about 40 minute after Sam. We’d all finished, which was a great result.
So that was PWIAD. Even in good conditions (both the 30 and 45 mile course records were broken) this is a tough event. Even accepting that my ultra fitness is down, the conditions were sapping and especially with the toughest section of the route being at the end of a long race. It is well organised although we all agreed that the checkpoints could have been better stocked and that it would have been nice to have had some proper food at the finish, rather than the same sweets and snacks from the checkpoints.
Would I recommend the event? Yes, it’s good, but don’t underestimate it, it’s a tough day out.
The kit I carried (and wore most throughout)
- Decathlon compression layer
- Peak & Valley (New balance) long-sleeved shirt
- Decathlon wind-proof jacket
- Higher State waterproof jacket
- Montane beanie
- Decathlon winter-weight leggins
- Decathlon water-proof trousers
- Decathlon toe socks
- Higher State ‘Soil Shaker’ fell shoes
- Salomon ankle gators
- Aldi padded cycling gloves
- plus spare base layers as required by kit check
- Decathlon 15l rucksack
- Unilite headtorch (I also carried my LED Lensor as backup)
- 4x Decathlon 500ml soft flasks
- basic first aid
- Black diamond foldable running poles
- Lifesystems bivvy bag
- Lifesystems survival bag
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