Dales Way Ultra

The Dales Way is a long distance route from Bowness in Windermere, in the Lake District to the West Yorkshire town of Ikley and passes through the heart of my favourite place; the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

This was a brand new ultra to celebrate 50 years of the Dales Way when Colin Speakman inaugurated the route in 1969. Of course, since then there have been modifications to the route, now claiming a distance of between 80 and 82 miles.

Go the extra mile, it’s never crowded.

It is not a hilly course in relative terms, with 6500 to 7500ft of climb depending whether you are using a Garmin or Suunto. What matters is the magnificent loveliness of the journey, the experiences, the views and the outstanding natural beauty of the trails, the small hamlets, the moorlands, fell-sides and limestone pavements. It was a route that fully lured me into wanting to experience all of this – all organised by an outfit called ‘Punk Panther’. The route although sporadically signposted was ‘self nav’ so the map was an essential part of the compulsory kit and for me, as was the studying of the route and editing the GPX file accordingly to ensure that I would keep on route.

So my summer holiday was a camping trip up to the Yorkshire Dales with a little 80+ mile run tagged onto the end. Because I can and I wanted to.

The runners’ excuses began the week before when I was stupid enough to try a bit of ‘proper’ speed work, i.e not being lazy and trotting around but actually executing some sort of effort into the session. The next day I woke up with hurty hurty shins and hurty hurty top of foot hurty hurty. I was hurting in the head in the head too. My smile had gone and I was hurty hurty.

A few days rest and I took mardies on, wondering if I was stupid enough to run 80 plus miles plus at the end of the week. On the plus side though there was a 36 hour cut off and it was seen as a ‘challenge’ rather than a race so lots of people were ‘power hiking’ the route by the sound of things on Farceface. With 3 course meals halfway (You should have seen the menu I was mighty impressed) it was definitely one not to worry too much about time and cut-offs.

Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears

By midweek the shin was improving and with a little bit of kind massage, ice and all that jazz I managed a little run around Bolton Abbey near to where I was camping to recce the Bolton Abbey pathways which I knew I would be hitting in darkness if all went well. It was all OK. I even went and reccied the end bit for peace of mind, especially a couple of little bits that looked like the route went straight through someone’s lounge.

By Friday all niggles and phantom injuries had all but disappeared and I found myself parking my car at the Finish in Ikley and catching 3 or was that 4 trains to Windermere. There were buses put on the following morning for an extra £10, but after previous experience of being on coaches with lots of runners when I’ve tended to overheat and nearly vomit, I decided to spend a few wise pennies on a ‘split ticket’ train fair up to Windermere the day before and a B&B in Bowness (which wasn’t cheap but a nice chap who made me a cuppa tea and left me some breakfast cereal in the morning).

Life is short so I run long

I met a delightfully interesting girl on the train who was supporting a ‘Punk Panther’ hoodie so I got talking to her on the train a little and she was telling me what a great ‘outfit’ they are and how they put on great races. I’d never done a Punk Panther race before (I’d had my eye on one previously in the year but due to medical circumstances I was unable to do it). A fellow friend from running club had done the Urban Legends back in June and spoke very highly of them too.

Arriving in Windermere the weather gods had ordered proper Lake District rain, this was a proper deluge of wet stuff none of that minor soggy rubbish, this was really wet rain, the stuff that really makes you really wet. However, I was stupid enough to forget that it’s quite a walk from Windermere to Bowness on Windermere so by the time I arrived at the B&B I was wetter than a fish in a wet t-shirt competition. I tested out the walk from the B&B to registration but got so hacked off with the Lake District weather gods that I went back in a big sulk and decided to faff with my bags for hours on end in my B&B. We were allowed one drop bag halfway at a place called ‘Gearstones’. What should I put it in? How much food? How much magic powder (aka Tailwind), how many layers? I decided to put in 3/4 trousers, extra top, extra socks and food and energy powder and a handheld torch. So plenty of stuff. Labelled clearly with my name, number and checkpoint, then underneath my phone number and house number, my orange drop bag was ready to go, and my little rucksack was loaded with all compulsory gear including my waterproof trousers which was not mandatory but I like to take them with me as if I don’t one day I will need them what was 110g anyway?. It was all systems go.

Apparently it was going to be mostly sunny most of Saturday despite the horrendous barrage of rainstorms of the previous few days. Yes, the sun was shining on Saturday morning so it was shorts and tee at the ready.

Registration was an uncomplicated affair, a small gazebo had been erected on the ‘Glebe’ a grassy park on the banks of the Lake. Everyone got asked to show their map as part of the compulsory kit check. I had the official ‘Harvey’s Dales Way map and my watch with the GPX on it plus I had faffed on Viewranger to get the route accurate on there, ensuring that I was ready to tackle the route in the best way possible.

Runner: ingredients: determination, humour, obstinance, strength, spirits, hopes, dreams

I walked up to the start chatting to a couple of others, 15 minutes away from the registration because the race outfit couldn’t get permission for the gazebo anywhere else, the logistics that go behind these races should never be underestimated.

The exact start was just up from the official start of the official Dales Waymarked by a stone and a seat that said ‘Ilkley 81 miles’. I was expecting about 82 as some of the checkpoints were off route a little again due to logistics.

130ish people gathered up the top of the field and a briefing was given surrounded by the humming of keen ultra runners feet apprehensively tapping as we eagerly waited for the countdown.

My own cynical reservations were quickly forgotten as we were off. As usual, people came spurting past, rushing headlong probably not quite realising there were another 81.6 miles to go. Each runner tearing past me faster than a Peregrine Falcon stooping catch its prey. I had placed myself around two thirds back, moving like a three-toed sloth. Yet I knew I had 80 plus miles ahead of me, and I was going to take it steady for the first few muddy miles. There is no rush in this game.

First I run the miles, then I run more miles

After a mile or so of floundering around in puddles, I was still dawdling along. People were bunched up and racing like the world was going to end in 2 minutes. After around 2 miles the front runners had taken a non-existent path, about 20 or 30 strange ultra creatures came hurtling back down the hill onto the main pathway, like they were in a National championship fell race. Really? Follow the leader didn’t obviously work that time around. Stick to your own route and never ever trust the first ultra runners in the first few miles. They were all back on track, sprinting away, maybe disgruntled because they been caught by myself and a few other three-toed sloths . I will do my thing they can do theirs as they charged ahead, and I plodded continuing to do the best impression of my three-toed sloth.

With events like this, every little thing just needs to be broken down into one step at a time. I never look ahead at how far the run is, otherwise I’d never begin. I just start running, slowly very slowly, that way I find there is a greater chance I will finish, I don’t overthink it I just try and love it and I run it.

Fall in love with the journey and every mile will be a magical one

I held the many metal five bar gate gates open for people and closed them carefully if no one was behind. Many of many. The dales way although not hilly had a brobdingnagian amount of obstacles; from large metal farm gates to tiny springy wooden hobbit-like gates, a million and one stiles, from the common step stiles to step-ladders rising to a point over the limestone dry stone walls characteristic particularly of the Yorkshire Dales and much more difficult to negotiate especially after 100km. Stone steps from the flanks of the dry-stone walls to the squeeze stiles. We’d be lucky if we’d just have a gap to squeeze through amongst the arable fields. In comparison to a similar distance, I completed back in November 2018 on the Wolds Way (Hardwolds 80 – another fantastic route) where all 120 stiles had been removed it was no wonder the Dales Way is a ‘slower’ route in comparison.

He lolls upon each resting stile, To see the fields so sweetly smile — To see the wheat grow green and long; And lists the weeder’s toiling song

I was soon at the first checkpoint 10 miles in at Burnside. A little deviation off the Dales Way to an indoor ultra ‘supermarket’ of snacks. A few people gathered inside but I was in and out faster than an Aldi cashier could scan in 2 Jaffa cakes. A group of both boys and girls caught me up and we had a little chat as we meandered along the little bit of roadside enjoying the moment we were in.

I will smile I will be happy and I will enjoy every step of this beautiful journey.

Sodden fields and waterlogged meadows were all part of the terrain. Soggy feet, soggy socks, and soggy Jaffa cakes. Nothing wrong with a bit of sogginess. Add in long grass tussocks and a few nettle stings to the recipe and you have the perfect output of the Dales Way.

I stopped to have a wee and lost the group who I was running with, but soon caught them up as some of them looked a little lost having missed a very overgrown signpost. The group had now grown and about 10 of us ran through what was like an enchanted woodland with a very charming old gate that resembled something out of the hobbit.

Figure out how to go to the bathroom on the trails

Navigation was not that difficult at this point. Some were using their paper maps, some using GPX watches some were using other people. Whatever works for each one is fine with me. The only thing using other people is that they may go wrong, even in a field, everyone followed the man with the map I went straight up and then across the next field which worked for me and then like the pipe piper everyone else followed. The land itself was up and down, rolling, nothing strenuous yet. With the green hues of the deep hills beyond, the sun was on our side today.

The Dales Way has changed its route a little over the years due to paths changing, safety and erosion. One of these sections was coming up. I was aware there were two ways to go, the supplied GPX suggested taking the road, but the official Dales Way Harvey’s map showed the way via the fields, either was OK according to the Race Directors post on Facebook a few weeks before as we were allowed a deviation of 500 metres off the route as long as we rejoined the route (note the story of the guy from Race to the Stones who was 1st and got disqualified for taking the road instead of the trail). So as we crossed the railway line a group of us took the field option (the Dales Way official map route rather than the GPX road route). When we met back up with the road I think there may have been a couple of disgruntled runners that had followed the GPX files instead as they were just behind us. In the end, they ended up bounding in front anyway so no harm lost. We followed the map as per the green triangles and I had studied the options beforehand too so I was confident that I had done right along with about 8 other runners.

Our group of about 10 were still well clustered together. We passed over the M6, some moving a little more swiftly than others. I had a bottle faff knowing the next checkpoint would soon be in sight and got my crap together (crap = litter mainly) to leave at the checkpoint.

A quick fill up with water at the next checkpoint at Beckfoot around 17 miles in and I was off again, leaving some of the pack I had been running with to pack faff. I was good for fuel, with my Tailwind, and Chia bars and a couple of other muesli type bars chopped up I was feeling swift and my legs were flowing well.

I was running on my own a little and then whistled back a guy who had decided to deviate into someone’s back garden. Another guy caught me up and we ran on together for a while chatting a little and enjoying the picturesque sunny day.

There was plenty of riverbank running, with picture-postcard viaducts and exquisiteness and mystiqueness of some odd-shaped buildings. Some of the paths were covered with dark mud other times we’d meander through vivid green meadows and trot along the banks of the river snaking its way down the valley.

Up onto rough ground, some exposed moorland, met by a bunch of elderly walkers cheering us on. There were now a group of about 5 of us. I found myself ‘leading’ the pack. I felt a bit guilty as I wasn’t going very fast and it was a narrow pathway but they were all following me with no attempt to break through and squeeze past me. At one of many hundreds of gates I beckoned a couple of them to go on and I would close the gate. We all kept together making little chit chat until we were stopped in our tracks – literally. Stopped in our tracks by a farmer with his tractor. Mr Farmer who was about 90 was not going to let us past, oh no. He instead drove at minus one mile an hour to our annoyance, and only just squeezed down the narrow path with his big red tractor and trailer on the back. Frustration on all our faces and in our legs as this was a nice downhill descent where we could have let the legs off the lead. It seemed like hours before Mr Farmer turned off although I guess it was only about 5 minutes. Once it turned off I was off, skipping and bounding down the track, a big springiness in my step, maybe that forced break had done me good after all.

A stream of water, dirty rich, flowed along the official pathway. With a few nettles to add to the sting, I hopped over the rain-washed ground, careless and free. Now running with just a couple of others on the country lane an unnecessary people carrier stopped us in our tracks, not another incident of the Tractor Man I hoped. We squeezed past it and picked up the pace on the flat-ish but winding tarmac.

It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you but no one can walk it for you.

There was a little turn away from the road which I had marked on my GPX file as I had been down on this part of the route before and previously missed the turning just as a guy in bright orange had done so. I whistled him back and gave him a wave as we swam our way across a very boggy field towards the riverside. Now the route would meander around the river all the way to Dent. Of course, being a riverbed path it was flat-ish but not fast. The abundance of stiles and muddy pathways scattered with tree roots kept us on our toes.

A few cows kept us amused, we precariously strolled through the fields as not to disturb their late lunch of lush dew-laden grass. Just the two of us now, with a few cheers on from the passer-bys near to the village of Dent. ‘Just 10 more minutes’ said one fellow. How did he know what pace we were running at? The next checkpoint was another out and back to get into the village hall leaving the Dales Way for a few hundred metres or so to pick up supplies for the next section. Dent is one of the loveliest of Dales villages, white-walled cottages and ancient buildings make it a fascinating checkpoint location. But no time to stop and marvel at the fascinating village, I was in and out before you could shout boo at a goose no time for faffing let’s get on with this. Let’s do it!

I had taken 3 mini scotch egg type things and a bit of some other random savoury picnic bite munchy thing and split my water all over the lovely floor (sorry!). I said my goodbyes with lots of ‘good lucks’ thrown my way and off I went. Feeling goooooood.

Every passion has its destiny

I was soon back on the official Dales Way route. Back on track, I was running with the same guy again as he had caught me up after spending a little longer at the checkpoint. The bramble filled pathway was at times more like an overgrown ditch, with scattered clusters of tall weeds as it meandered around the river. Luckily there weren’t too many places that were waterlogged from the torrential rain we’d had days up to the race. Sometimes the pathways would cross the river and re-cross back over further down. Cute little bridges gave fantastic views of the carved riverbed.

Up onto a small hillside, I had now lost the other two guys and was running on my own through a new plantation, but the rutted track itself was half-cooked with weeds, it was the official route although at times I had my doubt but I checked my GPX and my map a number of times to confirm. Finally, I emerged out of the plantation and onto the road again. The road to Cowgill takes in a little cute campsite directing the ‘Dales Way walkers’ to even more rugged ground with twisted tree roots to negotiate. Of course, I could have just ignored the signs and gone straight across the field of happy campers but I was not going to deviate off the route not even 2 metres and yes it was about 2 metres.

Do it because you showed up. Do it because you can.

The next stretch was always going to be a little tiresome; tarmac, flat and lacking any sort of variety. However, this would not defeat me. I wasn’t the only one finding it rather laborious as I caught up with and passed a few guys walking. It was just one of those points that had to be grinded out. At the point where I began walking the Race Director van came past and gave us a wave – that is just typical. Just typical.

As I approached a rather nice hill meandering under a charming viaduct and a hill and a half I caught up with another guy and we had a chat about all things The Spine which he had done a few times. It’s chattings like that that make me feel that I am still relatively inexperienced at these things and what I have done is only quite tiny compared to these incredible journeys that many have taken.

I was still moving well across the rugged moorland path onto Stoops Moss captivating the stunning views of the Yorkshire Dales, of the Three Peaks, absolutely idyllically picturesque. The sun was still beating down though the wind chill had picked up a little. I was still in shorts and tee and my legs were holding up well, sloshing through puddles and jumping over the rubble that made up the bridleway.

The bridleway meandered down the road but the Dales Way veered off onto the sombre heather moors and blanket peat bogs. There was definitely some sogginess here but no soggy bottoms. My foot slid into some sogginess ankle deep but I managed to stay vertical. What a fantastic 2 mile run squishing down to Gearstones and the halfway checkpoint. 40 miles in.

For it is not the miles we conquer, but ourselves.

The checkpoint was at Gearstones cottage. With a slight deviation off the Dales Way onto the main road to collect our drop bags hot food and a cuppa tea if you wanted on. I arrived with happy faces all around. I must admit it was a bit hectic inside the little cubby hole, I felt a bit claustrophobic and I wanted out as soon as possible despite the welcoming hospitality.

After I had found my drop bag I asked if they would be returned and decided with the weather on my side to leave my 3/4 trousers extra base layer, hand torch and socks, my feet were just fine so just took my magic powder and fuel. I was asked what I wanted to eat, but didn’t really fancy much, and felt like I was wasting valuable time. Others were sat down scoffing down stew, rice pudding and maybe some sort of pie. I kind of couldn’t be bothered to wait but it seemed so rude to turn down all the food, so to be polite I asked for some toast. Once I’d waited for it to be toasted I politely asked if I could take it with me as there was nowhere to sit and I really did need my own headspace again and the open moorland was beckoning me. I wanted to get on my way whilst I was feeling the love. So I took my toast and left with an expression of thanks ready to conquer Cam End – the road of hell, an old roman road incorporating the Pennine Way and the Dales Way. Whilst I was walking up the path of doom two cyclists came whizzing down and swore at me to move out of the way – err hello I can see you and I was walking at the edge as it was, no need for that. How rude.

However, the walkers were much more friendly and told me there were two guys in front walking up the hill and to ‘keep going’. At least they didn’t say ‘not far to go’. I glanced up to the never-ending pathway, I knew the path as I had run / walked up here a few times before, once earlier in the year when I stayed at Buckden to camp and didn’t know that I was on the Dales Way and another a few years before when I ran from Edale to Hawes over 3 days just for fun and because I am too stingy to pay for the Spine Challenger Race.

Run grateful every mile is a gift

So it was such a celebration when I reached the Cairn that indicated the turn off for the Dales Way, not sad to be leaving the Pennine Way but joyful to make my way across the moorland, boggy and bouncy and scrumptiously muddy, beautiful fun. With scattered homesteads in the distance, the fell and valley floor shimmering in the early evening sun, I felt alive and content. Just me and a few metal gates and rickety old stiles. The limestone dry stone walls glimmered to make it even more quintessentially English.

I navigated my way around the sodden trods, sometimes barely a path, sometimes a metal gate to open and refasten with a fingerpost ‘Yorkshire Dales’ sign on it. I could see no one in front of me nor no one behind. I was back in Helen land, just me and my head, my only other source of the company being the sheep, spread over this wild-looking moorland. I love it, I just love it. This is why I am here. It was a bleak sense of beauty, a sense of bare solidarity a sense of being alive but no one knowing where I was – literally as this was where the trackers went on the blink due to the lack of mobile signal. The joys of removing all the white noise from everyday life.

Running is a grown-ups lost link to playing outside

I passed through a farmhouse once again closing two large metal gates and onto a broad stony track, which with a slight decline down to the river made for nice gentle running. Dales Way walkers in the other direction wished me well as I skipped along down to the tiny hamlet of Outers and the beck. I was now back on the road, and I could just see someone in front of me as I had further sweet views of the valley below which I would follow via a series of more gates and stiles.

I could see a red runner and a blue runner down the valley heading towards the next checkpoint at Buckden. I love this particular area, taking in the tiny village hamlets of Yockenthwaite and Hubberholme. Although flat it is not easy with its limestone pavement to add to the varied running. I was jumping over the flat but rocky rock formations careful not to slip. The splendid river meandering around and the suspicious looking sheep dubiously staring at me as I connect with nature and immerse myself in the complete peace and tranquillity of this valley. This was ultrarunning at its best.

Ultras do not come much nicer than this.

Bumping into another two walkers they told me the other two guys were only just in-front and that I could catch them. However, first I had to negotiate Mr farmer and his sheepdog, herding his sheep for the evening. Once I had stopped to let that happen I went on my way. So on this ultra, I had been held back by a tractor, an unnecessary people carrier and then a Sheepherding – it’s a good job I wasn’t clock watching (or that it was a road race!)

Back on my own after leaving the sheep, I was surrounded by only the shadows of the surrounding hills shimmering in the evening light, the limestone rocks, oh the limestone rocks I love them, I love this landscape, the peaceful landscape. Even after 100km of running, I was still in love with the running and the experience, skirting around these quaint tiny hamlets and breathing in the lush meadow fields.

Running is a form of therapy; I wonder how all those who don’t run, manage to escape madness and fear.

However, if you are ever feeling good in an ultra – you’ll get over it. And yes, my tummy had decided to get angry with the amount of ultra sweetness I had consumed. I tried to eat half a Chia bar but it didn’t go down too well. The burning discomfort reminiscent of the Hardwolds 80 were beginning to penetrate throughout my body. Sharp indigestion, gas and other discomforts. I was now eager to get to Buckden to get some coke down me.

Finally, I got to the picture-postcard village of Buckden where I’d camped earlier in the year. Just before the bridge, I had my picture snapped, I tried to smile I was still running with fight to get to the checkpoint to get to my Coke. My legs felt OK but the tummy did not. Into the checkpoint I caught up with the two guys, another photo shoot. I was at this point told I was the first female. I downed a full cup of coke, smiled took extra coke for my journey along with a couple of pieces of millionaire’s shortcake and some water. I wasn’t sure what I needed apart from full-fat coke and that was almost what I had for the remaining 25 miles of the journey. Coke and water. If you’d ask me to run a marathon on Coke and water I would have thrown coke in your face but on Ultras you do whatever it takes to keep going. It’s the real thing.

Back down the road and back onto the Dales Way I wandered. The route now bumped up and down a few fields and I began to get a bit lethargic. The cool evening air and the last rays of sunlight were waving me goodbye. One of the guys from the last checkpoint caught me up, I was walking a little at this point and I began to feel deflated and defeated. The burning sensation in my tummy was just causing more anxiety. I had a few more miles in me yet before the full blanket of darkness would fall but decided whilst I was feeling lethargic I could take a faff break and pull out my head torch and buff ready.

Strength does not come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you thought you could not do.

Kettlewell, the next village I’d reached just in daylight. If it had been in the darkness I could have mistakenly had the best hallucinations ever, Kettlewell Scarecrow Festival was on and scarecrows of every sort of animal, person and celebratory could be spotted in every nook and cranny. Do you expect to see Elvis jumping out on you or Willy Wonker hanging off a washing line or a giant lion, elephant or giraffe or weird and wonderful creations clambering up drainpipes and peaking over walls in such an idyllic Yorkshire Dales village?

It was now getting hazy, running with the other guy I told him the next set of fields were a bit contrived, plenty of ‘sheep gates’ the wooden springy little gates that smack back at you, enough ladder stiles to have got your Garmin to tell you you’ve climbed to the top of the Empire State Building and back down again several 100 times. I’d walked / ran this part of the route at Easter so knew the Contrived bits well.

The last of the big climbs through some woods towards the open limestone pavement and wide grassy bankings was a great opportunity to pull out my base layer though I was still warm and had to roll up the sleeves I knew I may need it later on. Better to faff now than in full darkness.

Live now! Be bold and brave and make things happen for yourself today. Run and push, push and run

It would have been easy to go off track on this section if you didn’t know how to navigate, not so much in the day time but in dark, there were lots of different pathy options to choose from. The track levels out but is softly undulating at the same time. With crags on one side and the silvery full moon in-front, the best place to look was straight in-front at the beam of the head torch which was now secured safely to my head. I could make out Conistone Pie a rounded little hill that looks almost man-made. No time to go up there, I had a job to be done. We were both running together over some dry stone wall steps taking a pleasant descend down into Grassington. The other guy had gone in-front but it wasn’t long before I caught him up again and put him back on track as he was about to wander up onto higher moorland.

There was just one section coming out of a dry stone wall gap where I got a little disorientated, I knew the route went round but for some reason, I went straight ahead and hit a load of wires or pipes or something. I scrambled my way across the tussocks onto a more manageable pathway and checked my navigation, all was good again.

We were running together again and we made polite conversation with the ‘where are you from?’ type question, only to find out that we are practically neighbours living about half a mile away from each other in Sheffield. I then turned around and asked the inevitable ‘You’re not a strider are you’. For those not from Sheffield, there are quite a few running clubs in Sheffield, Steel City Striders are by far the biggest club in the city boasting over 500 members. Their yellow and green vests appear everywhere. I am a member of the much smaller Sheffield Running Club, but there is a friendly rivalry between the two clubs. Of course, he was a bl***dy strider! Right – mission on, I have to beat this guy (only joking I still had 17 miles to go and pah who cares)

Nothing’s better than the wind to your back, the moon in front of you, and a strider beside you

We made our way into Grassington and Striders’ other half and dog met him and ran with us to the checkpoint. The strider sat down whilst I just filled up on – yes you guessed it – Coke and Water. I was asked if I wanted any pasta but not for me, my insides were still razor-sharp. I wanted on my way and I had a mission. I had not even realised my position in the whole of the pack at this stage, of course, I’d like to keep my 1st female position but as I rightly know anything can happen in an ultra even in the last few miles, so I was not home yet. However, it did give me that little bit of a push to carry on and not take the chair of doom even for a few minutes.

On my own in a mile or so of darkness, the air was so still, the unity of the night light was carrying me forward. Despite my highly unpredictable stomach issues, I was determined to follow my feet negotiating the pleasant darkest woodland and riverside pathways.

Passion is pushing myself when there is no one else around – just me and the trails

Periodically there would be rabbits, hedgehogs, sheep and cows carelessly running through my path. The cows were possibly the most obstructive. I walked as their eyes shone brightly with anger in my dimmed head torch. At times I was possibly a little frightened but moved as swiftly as I could without upsetting their land.

I bounced over the rather quaint Hebden suspension bridge, laughing to myself at the madness of my adventure. Why do we do this? Little waves of nausea would come and go inside of me, but I would continue nevertheless.

Just a mile to Burnsall a pretty Dales village where if we required there was the Red Lion pub which the owners had kindly said that we could pop in if needed. I needed no pub so I crossed the bridge and into the £6 by day grassy car park by the river. It was here where I headed up a little too far and had to scramble down a banking to get back on track. ‘Don’t be stupid, concentrate and get your shit together’ I whispered to myself.

I rather be lost in the woods than lost in the city traffic. We’re all mentally ill. We’re all delusional. We’r all junkies. It’s just a matter of degree

Following the riverside, the craggy pathway was not the easiest to negotiate even with a decent head torch. I was now running alongside a campsite, whispers of happy campers filled the air and then suddenly a voice boomed ‘Well done keep running’ and I went splat, face planted straight onto the hard concrete. I’d managed to stay vertical all this time for around 70ish miles. No harm was done as a little trickle of blood ran down my leg and I brushed off the graze from my hand. Pick yourself up Ms Pickford and get on with it.

Soon I was to be at Barden Bridge where the grounds of Bolton Abbey meet. Here the Dales Way official route goes randomly into a very waterlogged field that is no longer a pathway. How do I know? I went down to walk this section a few days before as I was confused to where the path went. I’d walked around in circles making sure I was taking the ‘newer path’ and not cheating in any way. There was no way any sort of path would go through the fields – I’d need my snorkel and wetsuit for that anyhow and the gate was fastened and there was no sign of any trod whatsoever. Instead, the river path was a pleasant easy-going path suitable for wheelchairs – you know the kind?

The human body can only do so much. Then the heart and spirit must take over

Over another bridge and back on the other side of the river into the dark woodlands of the Strid in the grounds of Bolton Abbey. The Strid is a narrow rocky defile where the river gushes through. No time to take a look I had to stick to the pathways as this could get confusing otherwise. It wasn’t too far to the next checkpoint but alas at that moment my head torch decided to flash indicating that I only had 30 minutes left on emergency mode. Was I less than 2 miles away from the checkpoint? Could I get to the checkpoint before my light went? I had stupidly left my handheld torch in my drop bag – however, I did have extra housing for my head torch it was just that I really needed light to change the battery. It never occurred to me that my mobile phone has a light on it and I could have changed it, but in the middle of dark woods, it would probably be wiser just to run slower on the emergency setting. Stay calm and just run.

In the process of running long distances, you learn a lot about what drives you but most importantly you learn to look inwards for motivation not outwards

I made it, a friendly marshal pointed me across the bridge. I had no concept of time at all it could have been around midnight all I wanted was a new battery in my head torch and some more Coke and Water to see me through the remaining 7 miles. My legs were reasonably OK for 75 miles of Dales Wayness, it was just better stomach management that I really wanted to get mended after around 100km.

I was soon on my way knowing it really wasn’t that far really. The path undulates slightly passing stone seats and twisted tree trunks decorated with coins. The ‘Welly Walk’ signs for kids to learn and have fun around the grounds were all amusing me. I was looking out for the Igloo sign which I remembered from the previous days’ walking recce which for me indicated that I take the path down a steep slope and not carry straight on. Both paths led to the same place but the map said down so I went down.

The 60 Stepping stones at Bolton Abbey which would offer a fun experience in normal circumstances were not going to be touched in darkness. No chance this is not normal circumstances running through Bolton Abbey at past midnight on a Saturday night. Really! The more dry and safe way was the bridge a few metres away.

The more gratitude we express towards life the more life directs us towards gratifying experiences

I was back on the easy-going pathway and then running through more moist grassy fields to Bolton Bridge and beyond. Following the route on the main road for a little while before crossing and taking some rickety narrow nettle infused pathway that runs by the side of the road. I am sure it would have been quicker to take the road but the Dales Way was this way and much safer if a car had come by, so yes I took this way. Yes, it slowed me down but who cares in an ultra?

I reached a sign that said ‘Addingham’ but I knew the ‘real’ Addingham was another mile or so away and I had more negotiation of riverside trails before I would reach the village and a few more step stiles and ladder stiles to hoist my somewhat weary body over.

Its not about how far your legs can take you it’s about how far your mind can take you

I reached a caravan park with some amazingly humongous posh wooden cabins. A floodlight startled me as I ran past it towards a sign that said ‘Footpath this way’. Double-checking my mappy I nodded to myself and followed the signs.

Just 3 miles to go. I don’t do Parkrun but if I did it would be under a park run. But I don’t so that is irrelevant. A little further on, the official map and GPX file makes a little almost square shaped with one end missing and shows the route running through someones back garden and lounge. As much as I would love a cup of tea I don’t think they’d be impressed with a smelly ultra runner climbing through their window at 1 am in the morning, and once again I’d checked out this section to ensure that I was not missing something.

I was nearly ‘home’, nearly there, a little further to go, a little more tarmac a little more woodland and then I could see the Tennis club roof in sight. The sheep moved slowly and randomly whilst I trotted alongside the field, their eyes poking fun at me and my legs, tired but full of determination to run that 1 more mile.

Anyone can run any distance it just takes one more step always take one more step

I reached the tennis club and the little gazebo with the ‘finish’ sign, the RD Ryk gave me instructions to run up to the end of the Dales Way where there would be a letter of the alphabet pinned to the lamppost next to the stone bench indicating the start / finish of the Dales Way. I ran up and into a dark alleyway. I mean really would you run up a dark alleyway in the middle of Ikley at 1.30am in the morning? Really? Why? Yes Why! so I got to the end of the Official Dales Way glanced at the post – why, Y, y, Why? Yes Why!

So I had to run back and give the answer Y. What was the question I do not know. I just know the answer was Y.

I received lots of clapping as I ran back down the lane and into the finish. There Finished. Why?

Congratulations, ‘ 1st Female and 4th overall’ I was taken aback a little by the last comment, how could I have got through most of the pack like that? Not just Y but how?

Ultrarunning seemed to be an alternative universe where none of planet Earth’s rules applied: women were stronger than men; old men were stronger than youngsters; Stone Age guys in sandals were stronger than everybody

The so so kind finish crew made me a cup of tea. I stopped my watch not caring what time it was, I’d mistakenly started it about half an hour early at the registration rather than the start so it was wrong anyway and quite frankly I didn’t care one bit. I wanted a cuppa tea and the ability to come round a little. My tummy was still giving me some jip but I kindly took some beany stew stuff which I did wolf down and in a way it helped. Ryk the race director was chatting to me about his own Spine adventures at the same time as trying to organise people who were dropping out, who had got lost or who had felt like they had lost a foot or two. He described his events as ‘no frills’ and that’s what it was, a brilliant no-frills event. It was great to see the workings behind the scenes of 100 or so runners scattered about the Dales, the safety of the event, the logistics and the amount of organisation and patience that must go into something like this, and all we do is Run run run.

After a while, the Strider came marching in. I congratulated him and we had a little chat. It was then time for me to go but not before collecting my tee, medal, Dales Way booklet and a lovely plaque saying ‘First Female’ on it. Rather chuffed. Time to try and sleep. Goodnight, God bless and happy ultra dreams.

Birds fly, fishes swim, women runs

Time: 16 hours 59 minutes and 22 seconds – (Official PP time)

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