So it’s now 40 hours since I completed the Haworth Hobble with my Dad, and in doing so finally achieved a childhood dream. Sitting here with my box of chocolates (celebratory) and cup of Yorkshire Tea (mandatory), I’m reflecting on the highs and lows of Saturday, and letting it sink all in – I actually made it to the finish!
In the week before the event the main worry was ice and snow. I’ll admit that it did occur to me that a bad weather cancellation might actually be rather convenient for me. As it turned out there was enough warmer weather and rain to wash the worst of the snow away, leaving us with water, lots of it, come race day.
As is customary when racing with my Dad, we arrived late at the start line. Fortunately the race was late to start anyway so we didn’t miss anything. The start of the Haworth Hobble goes straight up the main street. A steep, cobbled lane, better suited to tourists, than a warm up for a 32 mile off road ultra marathon, but hey it looks good on the photos. Knowing I was out for a full day I set a steady (aka slow) pace early on. I was rather surprised a couple of miles in to find there were still people behind us. In fact for the first 6 miles there was a lot of chatting and laughing (yes, laughing) going on. My Dad, having a talent for using phrases which could be mis-interpreted, told one group of men passing us – “You better get a move on if you’re going to make it to the pub!” – he explained to me a tradition of some runners deliberately taking it easy and spending half an hour at the pub part way round – if you are one of these people, please write in to confirm his story! Anyway, I digress.
By the first checkpoint we had covered 7 miles and made it up, over and down the first big hill. (A proper runner would give you a more accurate location name here, but to me the day was a blur of hills, mud and occasional snow). I felt pretty good, and shortly after we came across the photographer who took the above photo. My Dad shouting, “Swing your arms to make it look like you’re going faster!” – Good tip! By around mile 13 I’d begun to struggle. It was really tough going with such deep mud everywhere. Often the choice was to either run off the path risking knee deep mud (I succumbed twice), or run straight down the centre of the path through several inches of freezing snowmelt river. As the day wore on I chose the second option more often. The certainty of cold, wet feet being preferable to the uncertainty of not knowing at which moment I was going to lose half my leg – again. At this stage it was not the physical toughness that was the issue but the negative thoughts which began to spring up. ‘If it’s this tough going at 13 miles, how on earth will I do another 19 miles like this?! etc. etc.’ One thing I’d learned it my training though is that it is possible the feel rubbish one minute, and then fine a few miles later. So I ignore the sinking feeling (excuse the pun) and kept going. The next major blow came at the 15 mile checkpoint – they’d run out of hot dogs!
This was not good. The moment was then salvaged by the discovery of a plentiful supply of sausage rolls. I had 2. And a hot coffee, and 2 buns, and a Jaffa cake. And I encouraged my Dad to stop chatting to everyone at the checkpoint and keep moving. We walked a while with our coffees, and in doing so passed about 5 people. Just because I’m slow does not mean I’m not competitive 🙂
The next breakthrough came at 17 miles. I was now past the distance of my longest training run. Everything from here was an unknown in terms of how well I could keep the pace up (we were averaging 16 minute miles), and if my legs could make it to the end. I thinking we were approaching the 20 mile checkpoint when I caught my foot in a bramble and came crashing to the ground. Luckily, thanks to the mud, it was more of a squelch than a crash. I’d got my hands out in front of me and they went wrist deep into the mud. I joked with my Dad that you would pay good money for mud like that at the spa, and we ran on. We got to the famous whiskey checkpoint to find a tiny dribble of whiskey left in a glass. I claimed it on the back of my “traumatic” fall, but couldn’t face the jam doughnuts. Just another bun for me please. We overtook some more people at the checkpoint (perhaps my triathlon training makes me uncomfortable staying stationary too long) and we were off to the approach to Stoodley Pike, the one name I can remember, as it marked yet another steep hill climb. “This is the last hill right?!” I said to my Dad. “Err…” he said.
If the whiskey made me feel a little drunk climbing Stoodley Pike, then I had a hangover as I came down the other side. We were being closely followed by several people we’d overtaken only by my speediness through checkpoints. I could here them laughing and having fun in the distance (yes laughing!..I know!). Around here you’ll have to forgive that the sequence of events becomes blurry. I remember still feeling good at 24 miles. I remember passing the marathon point (my second ever marathon and now I was on for the longest run of my life), I remember a very steep road descent into Hebden Bridge and wondering if those blokes made it to the pub, and I remember climbing steps sideways as going straight up had become too painful. At the top of the steps we kept going up, climbing more up the road, seemingly forever. Then we reached the top. This should have been great. Lots of flats and downhills now. Not far to go. Just 2 problems. 1) My legs were no longer working properly, 2) My brain had gone into some kind of delirium mode around mile 28. Now when you do an ironman (which I have) and you start to feel a bit funny in the head, you are generally on a flat tarmac road. You keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll get there. I was 4 miles from the finish on a muddy, rocky trail high in the moors. It was raining, it was foggy, it was starting to go dark. My biggest fear now was that if my eyes, to brain, to feet signalling was not quick enough I could trip on a rock and it would be game over. I decided to walk down the hill.
We reached the last checkpoint in pouring torrential rain. I somehow managed another 2 sausage rolls, but I was pretty sick of the sight of them. We were around 9 hours in, and learned that the winner had come past this checkpoint after 4 hours! He was probably fed, showered and wrapped up warm by now. We were still out on the moors in torrential rain with probably at least another hour the get to the finish. I know I’m biased, but I still maintain that it is the back markers that have the toughest time at these events. Not only do we push our bodies beyond usual limits (as does everyone in the race), but we do so for longer, and under constant threat of missing a cut off and not being allowed to continue. Well, I’d made the final checkpoint before the cut off. Now I just had to get to the end.
I’d imagined the last few miles as a gentle downhill run into Haworth, but this is where we hit the worst of the snow! Yes some how sheltered on the north side of this particular were snow drifts, several feet deep, and blocking the path in places. This is where the ladies I’d been trying to stay ahead of were able to pass us with there walking poles making it much easier for them to get across the snow and ice. I took it carefully (aka slowly) and finally got to the other side. Now the last sausage rolls had kicked in and I was able to manage a slow jog down the steep, rocky descent to the reservoir, passing people again. Once on the flat at the bottom however (and on the road), about 8 or 10 people seemed to whizz past “Where did they come from?”. My Dad patiently walked beside me, and I varied between walking and hobbling, just trying to keep inching forward. After hours being in isolation we seemed to amongst a big group of runners and walkers again. We chatted to one fellow who had set off one hour before us as part of the “walking” group. He’d had a tough day, but he was going to make it.
With one mile to go, it was obvious my legs had checked out. It was rapidly getting dark but we thought we could make it back before needing to stop and get torches out. We now seemed to be on a local walking path and people were out walking their dogs and going for training runs. To me it seemed that everyone was moving at the speed of light.
Before setting out I had dreamed of being able to finish, which requires beating the 11 hours cut off. In my best case estimates I had thought I might manage 10 hours. As we turned down a narrow lane to approach Haworth, my Dad told me we should be able to beat 10 hours. There were about 8 minutes left and he thought we were 4 minutes away. Time to pick up the pace, for one last push. Through the church yard, down the steps, down the cobbled lane, round the corner, across the road and back to Haworth Primary School: 9 hours and 56 minutes: Finished!
I had expected to feel emotional, elated, and excited. What I mainly felt was very, very tired. But underneath that, very, very happy. It’s now 42 hours later, and it’s still sinking in. It hurts when I stand up, it hurts when I walk, it hurts when I try and straighten my legs, but I did it. I finally did it! And I did it with my Dad who is an inspiration and a legend, who never gives up (even when he has to give up) and who has always encouraged me, without pressuring me, to push myself a bit further. We can all achieve more than we think we can.
Dedicated to my Dad, Gordon Stone, Fell Running Legend and 20+ times finisher of the Haworth Hobble.