The Dalesway – confessions of an ultra Runner…..
£2.98? Is that expensive or not? I never even got a second look from Skipton folk in that Superdrug, shoes off, mid-aisle trying to select the correct shade of nail varnish, with a few tester pots on the go…whilst getting advice from my wife. I’ve painted my toenails specially for my holiday in the Canaries. Not all of them, just the 4 that are in the ‘less healthy’ shades. There’s a greenish hue (all stocked by Farrow and Ball) – Wimborne White, a mid shade called ‘Moles Breath’ and then 2 in ‘blood blister black’ or ‘Down Pipe’ if we’re sticking with Mr Farrow & Mr Balls official shades.
Rimmel (toe)nail varnish (No.500 Caramel Cupcake if you’re interested) – a remarkeably lifelike tone. Once you get past the poxy little applicator brush, and swap it for a nice 2″ Harris ‘no-loss bristle’ (for those not familiar with builders merchant parlance – ‘a big paintbrush’), it’s quite blokey stuff, being a bit like Dulux One Coat, just sufficiently thick enough for a swift dab, no undercoat required – even over the darkest shades, and costs about the same price as liquid gold.
It’s not that I’m personally bothered, but unlike tough Yorkshire folk, camoflaging ones nails does help prevent the gag reflex from Johnny Foreigner holidaymakers in the pool. If I’d not taken part in the Dalesway Challenge, racing for 16 hours across 82 miles of mixed terrain from Bowness to Ilkley I would have never experienced such moments weeks later- truly the race that keeps on giving.
Way back in 2018, only moments after the Dalesway had been suggested as a race by Ryk Downes and Punk Panther Ultramarathons, I was signed up. All was going perfectly, a full winter of hard fell training, and a recce of the route on my birthday weekend. The expertly planned 2019 diary of build-up ultra races did not fare so well during the key months in the immediate lead up – a 6 hour distance challenge (DNS due to man flu) the Cortina Trail Ultra in the mountains of the Italian Dolomites (DNS after a torn hamstring – trail racing in the glamour location of Bolton) followed up by the Ben Vorlich ultra in the Highlands (another DNS – still hamstrung…) 5 weeks of inactivity…my mind festering over the likelihood of the Dalesway going down the pan as well, not helped by garmin connect telling me to move, and that I was becoming detrained. Thanks. By July I was back moving and it was make or break, just 5 weeks to get back in shape and not following the usual advice to build back slowly, thrashed out over 320 miles and almost exactly the height of everest in ascent, whilst repeatedly exposing myself to dehydration and ‘the wall’ as mental training. Race day came a knocking all too soon, a 6am bus convoy from Ilkley to Bowness, heading towards the lake district in torrential rain…after a week of torrential downpours. This is going to be moist.. replaces vest with tee, gets out jacket, hat, arrive at Bowness, its blazing…..puts away jacket & hat and vest back on. Hundreds of us tough ‘ard as nails ultrarunners huffed our way up Brantsfell road to the start, avoiding any mud or puddles. Go!! 2 minutes later we’re wading ankle deep, only another 16 hours to develop thtrench foot… Desperate to pace it properly and not go off like a twat, as per usual I then led for the first few miles. the Dalesway really twists and turns over the first 10 miles through to the checkpoint at Burnside, deceptively strenuous, but I was sitting comfortably in 3rd only a few seconds off the pace. Feeling great, only 72miles left😎. 10 miles now through to the M6 at Beckfoot- more twists and turns over roads paths tracks fields railways woods & moors. It was warming up nicely with a gusty westerly. Perfect. Still in 3rd but with a gaggle hard on my heels arriving at the checkpoint as I refilled another litre of water and snaffled a couple of bananas. 10 miles now through to Dent, with a stiff moor climb halfway through, Louise waiting for me somewhere near Dent so I could get a brew. Absolutely vital. Tea. Gallons of it Tea was going to be the vital part of my race plan, along with anything else I could force down. Turns out that’s crisps. Bloody gorgeous. Dent was getting a bit ‘ot. Probably the first and only time I doubted myself, 30 miles done just over 5 hours down, 52m left. Checkpoint 3 done – a swift zip over the moor/bogs to Ribblehead (with a stop for more tea at Dent Head Viaduct). The poles came into their own from here, helping to keep the hammer down and try gain on second – the elusive Ellis Bland, I’d keep on getting glimpses ahead…. Gearstones, checkpoint 4. Thoroughly filthy, thoroughly sweaty and thoroughly sure my toenails were both feeling mushy, not a great sign with 40miles left. A double mug of tea here as well (thats 4 now) and off to chase Ellis. A big long climb up Cam and then into bandit country…..the bogs across to Oughtershaw, 11km without even GPS tracker reception. So across at Buckden , Louise, joined by Kay and Tim were dot watching No52 on the tracking website and having a mini panic…. oh crap, tracker hasn’t moved, he’s broken, he’s fallen in a bog and died, he’s just died….. only as I came thundering into Buckden did they realise I was still going (really great local support on the bridge and a fantastic checkpoint) oranges, tea, more tea, some more tea (thats 7 cups) and crisps. Seabrooks salt and vinegar. Richard Smith had unexpectedly (but very much welcomed) joined the Coach Nash support crew and stated his intention to take position at each hostelry from Buckden to Grassington. That’s taking support to the next level. 5 checkpoints down, 53miles or so done, just 30 left and all on familiar terrain, zapping through to Kettlewell for more tea (that’s 9 now) and huge cheers from the crew (as they shall be known) off Kettlewell bridge. Feeling bloody great but definitely right the big toe is now oozy. Checked outside of trainer for blood…phew. Leaving Kettlewell with just the big ascent over Grassington Moor to get done before nightfall. With a full blood moon emerging you dont want to stray off the path…..by now Tim was apparently getting a bit nervous about keeping up 😂, as he was going to joining me for the last bit at night along the river through to Ilkley. The fact that at Grassington- checkpoint 6 – more tea ( thats 11 now) my world was a bit wobbly and I’d seen a bear (turned out to be a rabbit) Tim was feeling more confident about keeping up 😂. All lit up with headtorches ablaze it was a quick dash through to Burnsall and more cheering off the bridge (cup 12 – provided by the Red Lion) and straight off heading for Barden, where cup 13 awaited. Barden…. that’s just 10 miles or so left. 3 parkruns. 12 laps of Lister Park. Bolton Abbey checkpoint came in a flash, although Tim somehow managed to run through a (hallucinatory) giant stag despite my shouting…..never even flinched didnt the lad…. just a couple of riverside miles to Addingham….home territory and a brew (14) at the suspension bridge. 3 left. Just 3 miles. Dont bloody jinx it. Keep quiet. Just run. As the Ilkley Tennis Club came into view i did have a bit of a whoop, arms aloft past the finish line (although not quite finished) and started to sprint for the Dalesway end only 1/2mile further. 15hrs 59mins and 8 seconds I was sat on that seat. Done. Almost, just a sprint back to the finish. 16hrs 3 minutes. Way inside my estimate of 17-18. Just time for a medal, 3rd place trophy, congratulate Ellis in 2nd and a half past midnight cuppa (No15).
Huge thanks to the organisers, marshalls, random supporters and my ‘crew’ of Wife Louise, friends Kay, Tim and Richard and Tim again for accompanying me to the finish. What a day (and night).
As the race that race that keeps on giving, I also discovered soon after the finish that it’s possible to faint (twice) and still remain standing.
Finally, as i write this, a foreign child is screaming in the pool…..Rimmel ‘caramel cupcake’ may be the right shade but it can’t disguise a floating big toenail…. Take up ultrarunning. You’ll love it.