Haworth Hobble – We Made It!

HH 1_0354So 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.


Howarth Hobble – 5 days to go!

5 days cropWith only 5 days to go until my 32 mile challenge, now seems like the perfect time to reflect on my training over the last few weeks, and prepare myself mentally for whatever I will face Saturday morning.

My preparation has been less than perfect. I was dealing with some stress and depression issues through December, and did no exercise at all. I began some running just before Christmas mainly to make myself feel better, and then a few weeks later thought -“it’s still 8 weeks to the Haworth Hobble, I wonder if I’ve got time to train for that”. I’m pretty sure the sensible answer was “no”, but I don’t get much fun out of sensible answers so I decided to give it a go anyway. (At this point I should probably mention that in 2017 I completed 2 half ironmans, 2 half marathons, and a number of smaller events, so I should have some base fitness and I would certainly not recommend 8 weeks training for this event if you are a beginner – always seek expert advice! 🙂 )

So 8 weeks preparation was not ideal (albeit with some endurance under my belt), I then proceeded to become ill twice in those 8 weeks, each time needing to cut training a few days. Time for a re-focus of mindset. Yes, I am undertrained (longest training run 17 miles), but look at the factors to my benefit: 1) I will have fresh legs! – no overtraining concerns here; 2) My strategy is run/walk in any case and knowing I’m undertrained will definitely avoid me starting off too fast, 3) I am running with my Dad, Gordon Stone, who not only has completed the event more than 20 times but is also a veteran of the Mind Over Matter philosophy, having previously walked the 500 miles length of the Pyrenees – solo, and also completed the LDWA 100 miles – non-stop – twice!

Combining the above with the fact that I don’t view failure to finish as a failure (in fact, I view turning up at the start line as a massive success), I am really looking forward to the day. If I get past 17 miles, it will be my longest run in 7 years, if I get past 26.2 miles it will be my longest run ever, and if I get to the end I will be both shocked and overjoyed in equal measure, but it is possible, I’m giving it 50:50. That was good enough for an Ironman, and it’s definitely good enough for now. See you on the other side, and everyone pray for no more snow!

Up in the Clouds

haworth moors

As a qualified research scientist, I’m skilled in examining evidence, and determining it’s importance, to either support or refute a hypothesis. I am wondering what evidence led me to the conclusion that I could run 16 miles, across West Yorkshire moorland, with incessant rainfall from above, and a continual stream of rainwater run-off underfoot?

There was certainly no evidence to be found in my fitness levels, recent training or preparations (a weekend of Saturday beer drinking, and Sunday wine drinking). Yet here I was, 8am on a grim Monday morning, just outside Haworth, getting ready to run/walk/probably crawl a bit, 16 miles, in training for the Haworth Hobble – now only 6 weeks away!

Ok so there was one tiny shred of evidence I could do this. It’s exactly the kind of ridiculous thing I’ve done before. Like the time I decided to cycle 52 miles to Whitby and found myself along a rocky section of the Cleveland Way (a walker’s route) on a road bike. Or the time I decided the perfect training for a half ironman would be…….to do a half ironman. Yes the evidence points to one thing. If I’m crazy enough to attempt it, I might just be crazy enough to pull it off!

The first part of the running was very hard: uphill, muddy, huge pools of water to navigate, a side wind of rainfall smacking me in the face! To my mind this meant only one thing, “if I can get through this part it’s certain to get easier!”, and it did, sort of. To be honest I walked those uphill sections, as well as some flat sections, and a lot of steep downhills. But the aim was a 15 mins a mile pace overall, so this was fine. When I had some grip and the gradient was under 5%, I could break into a run. Occasionally I would stuff my mouth with jelly babies (6 is the optimum to avoid risk of choking), and this would keep me going for another 40 minutes of steady plodding.

My Dad, an experienced long distance runner, kept me company, and managed to walk alongside me as I ran, without making it look like he was taking the mick (an excellent skill!). Probably the most fun parts were those downhills which were just gentle, and stable enough to get a good jog going. These paths were also doubling up as temporary rivers, but hey you can’t have everything! Less than 5 hours and more than 17 miles later, with very wet feet, we were back at the cars. Mission complete! Who’s crazy now?…..oh yes that’s probably still me.

I was very pleased with my training run. It feels like I’m on track and I’m cautiously optimistic that conditions will be much better the day of the event. My ambitions may seem a little up in the clouds sometimes compared to my ability levels, but isn’t that the joy of challenging yourself? That extra push can take you to places you never expected to reach, and if you’re lucky enough to reach your goal the success (and the jelly babies) taste even sweeter.

Diane Brown is a Writer and Wellbeing Coach, currently in training for the Haworth Hobble. To find out more go to http://www.fitbee.co.uk

Every Journey Begins With The First Step

The other day I did something a bit unusual in my run training. I left my trainers at home and went for a long walk instead. I’m getting prepared for the Haworth Hobble, a 32 mile off road, run/walk event, and due to a variety of circumstances, I find myself trying to cram my preparation into 8 short weeks. (At this point I’d like to say don’t panic, I’ve been regularly training for months, but unfortunately the only thing I’ve done regularly of late is eat mince pies!)

Anyway, back to my walk. My training plan (the one I haven’t been following) said it was time for a 13 mile run. I knew that was a stretch on my fitness level, and also I really needed to get off road as all my training runs have been on flat roads, and what I needed was hilly moors. So I looked up the 10 mile, North York Moors route, I’d planned with my Dad 2 weeks ago (oh yes, I may have not done much training, but I’d done lots of talking about training), and decided that as I was a) Unfit, b) Not entirely sure where I was going and c) Looking for an excuse not to run and discover how unfit I was, that I would walk the 10 mile route – did I say walk? I mean recce of course!IMG_0385

Here I could cut to the end and just tell you it was an absolutely fabulous day out, but I’ll give perhaps a little more detail. It was a very foggy day, and the fog only got denser as I headed into the Moors. I parked in a little village, trying to park near the church, but couldn’t see it in the fog (when I got back to the car later it was 150m further down the road).

I was glad I’d downloaded a fancy OS Map to my phone, and that I had a signal, because the first footpath took me straight through someone’s back garden and I wouldn’t have had the confidence to go that way without the little red arrow on my screen pointing directly at it. The first section was bridleway and it was very soft underfoot, gradually getting wetter and clumpier. I came to a steep descent through a recently cleared wood area. The recent loss of vegetation and very wet ground turned the slope into mudslide territory, and now my shoes were completely clogged up I had zero grip and I was beginning to wish I’d brought my skis (or at least my 5 year old’s sledge).

I safely made it to the bottom, crossed a small stream via 2 small wooden bridges, and suddenly in the bottom of this small valley was struck by the isolation and began to appreciate the effort I’d gone to not plod out yet another flat-road training run. Then it was a steep climb back out the valley, this time amongst trees still intact, and then more fields, woods and bridleway through the mist, wondering what views I was missing, and treating myself to the occasional jelly baby.

I was merrily enjoying myself, when I suddenly realised I’d entered a field full of loose horses. Now I know they are supposed to be friendly but they are much bigger than me, can run faster than me, outnumbered me 20:1, and were looking very curiously in my direction. Actually, with hindsight getting through that field was ok. It was the one that followed that freaked me out more, when one of the sheep started to run towards me! And you know what sheep are like, once one does it…..  I had to do my best shooing voice on that one, and quickly got out of there, trying to act casual, and like I’m not at all afraid of sheep (they can sense it you know).

After that, running into a group of men in jeeps carrying guns, didn’t really faze me at all. From what I could work out they were out shooting the local pheasants. Officially I mean, they had walkie-talkies and everything! I heard one radio in that a walker was coming, presumably not so they could lie in wait for me further down the track.

By now I was about 6 miles in and I could see patches of blue sky. I wasn’t making fast progress. The constant direction checking, jelly baby eating, and avoidance of wild animals were all a bit of a distraction. But I was getting there. It felt wonderful to be out amongst nature, in the clean air with barely a soul around.

Up and over another large hill, through empty fields (the best kind), down through another steep wooded valley and I was finally on the last mile. On the final climb I went through my favourite thing in nature – a tree tunnel – and then, lost in thought, down a long boggy track, I turned a corner and out of the fog a small group of houses appeared. It had taken me just over 4 hours, but I’d made it, and I felt great.

It was such a slow paced walk I struggled to convince myself I’d done any exercise at all. Frustratingly my watch calculated I’d burned 999 calories, and I didn’t dare check the calorie content of the jelly baby packet which was now mostly empty! However, 24 hours later the aches and pains began to kick in, and now I’m happy that I’ve made some progress towards my Haworth Hobble goal.

So what did this expedition teach me? That it’s always worth making the effort to get out to somewhere new and especially somewhere beautiful to re-invigorate your training; that even when you don’t feel like doing the thing you had planned, doing something is better than nothing; and that however unfit you feel, however far off your plan you are: every journey begins with the first step. Take that step, however small. Get moving, and you could have the most wonderful time.

Ironman Edinburgh 70.3

27_m-100769033-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2019_032107-8729161To say that I was nervous would be an under statement of epic proportions. I had spent the last 18 months preparing for this day, not just physically, but mentally too. The previous day I had spent registering, setting up split transitions, attending race briefings and a practice swim. I had tried to follow the bike route in my car, and managed to get lost. With all the logistics of getting things set up, my Garmin had logged 11.4 miles of walking. So much for staying off my feet!

None of that mattered. When you build up to a big race you have plenty of time to imagine what race day will be like from worst case to best case scenarios. If like me you are of relatively modest ability you hope for that best case scenario knowing the conditions could be key in your ability to get round. My worst case scenario was rough water for the sea, and strong westerly wind on the bike. Rain? put a jacket on, Cold? put more layers on, Heat? plenty of fluids. But the wind? That was my nemesis. Only snow could have been worse and although it was Scotland, I felt that was unlikely in July.

So imagine my growing consternation as the forecasts began to come in, and the race day approached. First it became clear that I would be cycling into a westerly headwind with gusts up to 25mph. Not the worst wind ever, but not much benefit to be had from tail winds on a point to point, east to west route. then I went down to the practice swim. #%&*!  People were been tossed around like corks in a pre-school play bath. Suddenly no one was interested in the temperature of the sea (one of our favorite Facebook topics for months!), all we could think is how the hell are we supposed to swim in this!

But let’s get back to that start line. Clearly the build up so far had not exactly helped me gain confidence, but 2 things were clear to me, the same 2 things which got me round Ironman UK in 2011. 1) I was going to start, 2) I was going to keep going until someone made me stop. I completely expected I was going to attempt the swim, miss the cut off, and spend the rest of the day in the pub. This was disappointing, but at least I’d get a couple of beers instead of fighting headwind for 56 miles on the bike. My prediction turned out to be wrong.

Go! The swim was shortened due to the rough condition, down to 950m with a cut off of 35 minutes. We were told to try and kick hard to get out to the first buoy and then the next section was easier. This is exactly what I did, for the 3 seconds when I wasn’t distracted by tidal waves, swallowing water, people being rescued by Kayaks and generally scenes that were more reminiscent of disaster film than a recreational sporting event which we’d all paid around £250 to enter! Anyway, I made the first buoy and quickly realized that they had been lying about it getting easier. If anything more people were doing breast-stroke at this point the recover from the first stint, about 70% of us I reckon. Once people got their bearings and their wits, we would strike out for the next buoy, sometimes managing up to 8 strokes before being randomly tossed aside by another huge wave. This routine of: get your bearings, swim, get hit by a wave, try not to drown, stop to get your bearings again was repeated many, many times. When I reached the turnaround point I was pleased, until I turned around and the sun was shining straight in my face, making it nearly impossible to spot the next buoy. So I followed the crowd hoping they knew what they were doing. They didn’t, and I corrected my course about 100m later when I figure out where I was supposed by be going. After what felt like for ever, I was finally swimming towards the beach. I stood up, got knocked over by another wave, stood up again, staggered to the T1 chute, looked at my watch and saw I’d done it in under 31 minutes. Damn!

In T1 I spent 3 minutes trying to find my kit bag. My brain had clearly discarded this information in making way for thinking about survival, so I staggered up and down the (clearly numbered) aisles until I eventually found it, and then spent the next 10 minutes trying to dry off/warm up/put my bike kit on (and if I’m honest – see if I could still miss the cut off by being slow in T1 – I really needed a beer!).

The bike started well. the first few miles went West to East so I had a tail wind. I wasn’t putting in much effort and I glanced down to see I was doing 20mph! This is normally break neck speed for me and was the first indication of the issues I was going to have in the other direction. After the easy first few mile we headed inland, up some shallow climbs, and began to feel the pressure of the wind. In total I was on that bike for 4 hours and 31 minutes. I don’t remember much of it, and the bits I do remember I struggle with the order it came in but it went something like this: Long, long tortuous drags uphill into headwinds, turn a corner, battle a cross wind for a bit, turn a corner, back into the head wind. Pass a village – great support and cheering from locals, back into the headwind. feel like I’m not moving, try pedaling harder – has no effect, try a lower gear, has no effect, wonder how the people who are passing me are making their bike move faster than 10mph, gradually sink into a pit of self pity and despair. Check my watch (might make the cut-off if the 2nd half is easier). Pass another village. Go through a feed station. Smile! get a round of applause for hitting the bin with my empty bottle. Grab an energy bar. Head down, Cycle into the wind again. What’s this? A downhill section” Go hell for leather trying to make up as much time as humanly possible. Steep hills section, lots of narrow roads and twisty corners. Try not to die, succeed! Feed station again. Other cyclists are pulling over for bananas and a loo break. No way I can afford to stop. Glance at my watch – need to do 16mph average to make what I think is the cut off (average speed at last race was 15.6mph). Downhill for a bit, Go For It! Uphill again….. the time it took me on my last race passes by, my estimated time passes by. I now need 18mph to make the cut off and I still have to go up Arthur’s Seat at the end. I get a good downhill section and start to gain confidence, I take a sharp left onto an uphill, miss my gears, and fall off into a grass verge – now that was funny!

As I take the last few miles (I don’t know how many as my Garmin was knocked by the fall and thinks I’m in T2), I wonder how to explain to my son that Mummy wasn’t able to finish the race. I find this deeply upsetting, but I realise I can probably get some kind of good teaching moment out of it. It’s the taking part that matters, and all that. I feel guilty and embarrassed being applauded into Holyrood park as I know my race is over. They should clap for the real athletes. I’ll just cycle over this last hill. I see the runners on their half marathon and wish I could be as good as them. At least I can stop soon.

I enter T2, rack my bike, nip to the portaloo, pick up my kit bag (I know exactly where it is). No one seems to have noticed me or care what time it is. When I calculate later I was 19 minutes after what I expected to be the cut-off due to the short swim. I am still inside the original cut-off. Helmet off, trainers on – they are going to let me run. THEY ARE GOING TO LET ME RUN! Go, Go, Go! I see my husband and son, and have to stop to give my son a big kiss on the cheeks. And then, having no idea how long I may have left to finish the race, or when someone might realize they let me on the course by mistake, I run like my life depends on it. There’s a long hill. I run up it. There is a long dark tunnel where you can’t see what your feet are landing on, I speed up as I have no idea how fast I’m going in the dark. I start to pass people. (I later learn I lost 400 places on the bike, but regained 200 places on the run!). I have what must be the best run of my life. In my previous event my legs folded after 8 miles, this time they just keep going and keep going. I’m trying to cover as much ground as I can so that when I’m forced to walk I still have time to get to the end. It never happens, and I run all the way to the finish. Everything that went wrong on the bike, went right with the run, and at last I achieve my goal. I’m enjoying myself!

I run down the famous Ironman finisher’s chute to record a time of 7 hours 49 minutes. Even now, 3 days after the event, I’m not sure if I’m and official finisher of if someone at Ironman HQ is about to DNF me for my long bike split, but I crossed the line, I have my T-shirt, my engraved medal, and I know I got round that course.

Taking part in any endurance event takes you on a journey. It’s not just about the race day. It’s about your training, the sacrifices you make, the support from friends, family, training buddies and coaches. So many people help, influence and support you on that journey, and come race day you want to repay them (and yourself) for all the hard work that’s gone into it, by giving it your absolute best. I think that’s what I did on Sunday. It wasn’t my best physical performance, or even my best mental performance. But I wasn’t leaving that course unless I was forced to do so. In fact stopping (willingly) never even occurred to me as an option. And as my club coach and brilliant friend put it “There you go then!”