Forest and Moors Marathon

A friend had signed up for the Forest and Moors event in North Yorkshire, organised by Scarborough and Rydale Mountain Rescue. He’d done the Ravenscar half earlier in the year and spoke very highly of the simplicity of the events. Low key, (but chipped) limited to around 300, marked course, (but still needed OL27 and compass) stunning scenery, in an area that I’d not been before, and on a Sunday. With the option of a 10km, half and full marathon (ish as we are talking trail here) it was a no brainer to join the fun.

Trail running closes off the rest of the world so you can just be. It’s good for the soul

I foraged Ebay for a cheap OL27 map (found with the bonus of the OL26 for future use) and paid my nominal fee to the race. Given it was organised by the Mountain Rescue I decided to opt for a tee as well because I am running out of normal ‘commute running’ tees and it looked pretty decent and quite a pretty design and knowing all funds go into a well-deserved service why not.

Sunday morning at 4am I was sat in a bath with Olbas oil and epson salts trying to shake off the snot from my nose and the sore from my throat. I was sweaty and not convinced I would be running a marathon and a bit in 5 or so hours. However, moving from horizontal to vertical helped immensely and the right amount of cheap flu tablets and cups of tea seemed to make me feel better.

A 6.30am drive up from Sheffield was a simple affair but with 2 toilet stops to empty my rather irritated bowels. By the time we reached the field in the middle of Dalby Forest, I was somewhat very empty but the snot had stopped running and the sore had stopped throating and I was going to attempt this regardless. It wasn’t overly busy and no queues for the 4 portaloos meant I could go again and again.

The marathon started at 9am, the half at 9.30am and the 10km I can’t remember probably 10am? The cut off for the marathon and half was 6 hours, it may seem a lot but we are talking trail and hills and forests and moorlands so 6 hours was actually quite tight.

9am we went. Across the grass, we went. Down a slope, we went, up another slope we went and through the Dalby Forest woods. Lots in front of me lots behind me, I started to cough a bit, but I was ok I was holding it together ok. I ended up tailgating about 3 or 4 people – one girl running with another bloke chatting about the 9 Edges race in the Peak District, I didn’t want to interrupt to see if they were from Sheffield – probably not and another one or two guys running near me too. The girl and bloke were really good at the downhills, flying down with no fear whilst I was picking my way down step by step. To be fair I have got much more nimble on my downhills but I’ll never be in the fell running downhill league.

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

Soft sounds of the North Yorkshire steam railway puffed their way through the valley as we took on the trails of Levisham Woods. Delicate patches of mud, tree routes, glittering autumnal leaves still hanging onto their branches for September had been kind to us and today had so far been kind with dazzling blue skies and the glowing sun radiating through the forest tops, not a raindrop in sight. It was forecasted rain about 1pm and the compulsory kit included waterproof top. I was hoping by 1pm that I would be back near the forest and not on top of the moors but a bit of rain wouldn’t hurt today as it was still very very warm and humid.

I was following my GPX file though I had the compulsory kit of OL27, compass and viewranger on my phone (the latter not being compulsory of course), however it did on several occasions lose the route whether this was GPX signal or the route itself it didn’t really matter as the course was very much fully marked. There was just one bit just before the 6-mile mark where a signpost indicated to ‘levisham station’ and the GPX pointed that way but there were no arrows and runners were going straight ahead so I hesitated but followed which was correct, onto Levisham Elbow where there would be water and snacks. I politely refused the snacks and went on my way.

This was where the half marathoners would veer off and us marathoners would drop down the hill. I lost my friends who I had been tailgating and was now on my own on rugged tufty grass after crossing Levisham railway station. Very rugged, it was ruggedly unrunnable, big troughs of grass and tussucks for ankle-twisting disasters, luckily I stayed vertical all the way. The hissing of the steam train sounds in the far distance brought a bigger smile to my face.

The course was comprehensively marked, with either big yellow arrows or little red tape around bushes and trees. Of course there were a couple of places where I wandered about wondering if I was on route, especially as the GPX had gone off track again but I trusted the route markings (carry on if no sign and if you’ve gone 3ish miles and not seen any markings then turn back and run 3ish miles back and pat yourself on your back for doing 2 parkruns or a 10km for no reason at all).

The route meandered onto wide forestry tracks, the track was somewhat relentless and although off-road and not a steep climb it was certainly going in the up direction. I caught up with a few guys who were also suffering from the somewhat unforgiving track but just keep running. The views were immaculate. Remote moorland awash with the multi-coloured offerings stretching further than the eye could see. I couldn’t wait to get up there and run even more.

The checkpoints/water stations were again simple, you weren’t going to get any plastic cups, pre-packed sandwiches, pizza, or 10 different flavours of crisps here, oh no, you got water, orange juice, crisps (plain) and jelly babies of course and bring your own cup as its a cupless event. Absolutely perfect, it’s all what a runner needs. I filled up with water and got told I was 15th overall and 1st female. I thanked them and told them what a fantastic course it was so far. This must have been around 16 or 17 miles into the course.

The rising Wheeldale Moor, rolling on for miles and the springy ground beckoned me to put a big spring into my step as it wound its way through the colourful heathers, I danced about in this world of uneven ground, a few runners embroidered delicately into the landscape. I began to play ‘catch up’ I counted the runners way ahead some 1 or 2 miles ahead I am sure, four of five of them and slowly I would chick them, ever so slowly as I skipped down the path that lay between the cloudless sky, the myriads of colours radiating across the moorlands heathers, feeling the freedom of the world, the beauty of the world and completely zenning out. This is what running is about when you reach that Zen feeling and nothing in the world can interrupt that magnificent warm glow inside and out. That 3 or 4 miles of pure bliss was running perfectly. That’s why I run. I’d passed 3 or 4 guys along the bouncy sandy pathway, my body and head were feeling as strong as it could be with some snot starting to slowly re-emerge in my nostrils. But I ignored it and let it snot itself out. My head was a little thick but it wasn’t going to stop me.

Every passion has its destiny

The weird giant wedge-shaped structure – the ‘pyramid of Fylingdales’ somewhat unseemly gracelessly braced itself on the horizon surrounded by more miles of sweeping heather many miles away. Replacing the Iconic ‘Golf Balls’ that were taken down in 1994 the strange building is now used as a feature on the landscape for crazy runners to orientate themselves and marvel at how far they have run or they have to run.

Dropping down a steep banking I came back down to earth as I had to concentrate much more on my footing grabbing hold of a few branches of some bushes as I slid my way down to a rather picturesque brook and some dainty stepping stones, one two three four five six seven, delicate cute and so picturesque it was hard to believe that the main road and Fylingdales RAF site was only about half a mile away.

I was welcomed at the next checkpoint with water, jelly beans and more crisps, I took some water for my journey around Fylindales and some more crisps. Nutrition was going well, with water, Tailwind, crisps and some kendal mint cake, a great combo for today’s event.

I had to pause for a few minutes to cross the main road then I was well on my way back into the squishy ground around the perimeter of the RAF site. The GPX file seemed to go a slightly different direction to the actual route markings as I followed the red ribbons of the marked course and ignored the watch (the watch is not always right you know) and across a couple of stiles and through some minor boggy parts. It was around this point where I went off track. One guy was up yonder and two other guys just behind me, I saw no red tape so crossed a small wooden ‘footbridge’ structure and realised I was on the other side of the beck. The guys behind me were hesitant and continued on the same side. I was now on no defined path so veered back across the beck which I had to do a flying jump over and rejoined the little rabbit path, thanking the boys behind me whilst I whistled another guy back once I’d re-spotted the red ribbons. I was back on route and I could see yellow arrows pointing around the fringe of the RAF base.

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

One of the yellow arrows pointed straight through some tall reeds, I could see another arrow in the distance so I just waded myself through them arms up in the air like no one cares (well I didn’t anyway) and carry on regardless.

I was then back onto springy moorland reminding me of the Peak District as rocks jutted out skipping and bounding over them like a Kangaroo on drugs. Running around the periphery of a woodland a cyclist made me jump as he came skirting past me. I was certainly in my own little world now. I got a yummy taste of Lockton High Moor, Saltergate Moor and Hazel Head Moor. Give me more.

Rambling through pastures and over stiles the climbs I thought now were out of the way, but oh no. After going off track a little I rejoined the red ribboned tape and through some farm gates to be confronted with a rather abruptly steep up bit at the side of a fence. Unnecessary after 23 or 24 miles ish. It was at this point that I did wonder how long I had left. I knew that there was another checkpointy type thing about 3 miles from the end so I guessed I’d done around 23 miles, the watch said 24.5 miles so a guestimation of another 2 or 3 miles to go. By looking at the watch this created a fade in my body so I tried to blank it out and once I’d reached the summit of what could have been an unnecessary hill I gave myself a little talking to and embraced the rest of the journey.

Onto a wide track – there was no arrow but a stile straight across, I guesstimated that it was left because there was a small blue tent erected in the distance must be the checkpoint, and the GPX seemed to point that way so off I went on more runnable trail to the final checkpoint where I half-filled my bottle and took on a couple of jelly sweets. Just a couple of miles to go then.

In the distance, I could see a yellow sign it looked like x2 arrows together but it wasn’t it was the mile 11 sign for the half marathoners, doh! Daytime hallucinations or just me being a blind bat? It was a nice gentle descent down into the forest from here though I questioned myself again at a gate as the GPX seemed to be out again but there was no other way to go and finally I came across another yellow arrow. I got into my stride and started to put some effort into the last mile or so, more so when I saw the 12 mile mark. No one behind me no one in front of me just me and the course and my body doing what it loves doing, just running and challenging itself.

Onto the road, the moutain rescue guys were there in their little van pointing the way ‘not far to go’ they said ‘ through the field and up the woodland’. Oh yes, the sting in the tail – the little uphill bit at the end that had been mentioned on the show notes as a ‘ sharp climb back to the finish.’

Just as I started on the uphill climb as I stopped running my quads started cramping, noooooo I screamed not this near, some half a mile or so to the finish, not now, noooo. So I decided to run up the hill as much as I could whilst trying to massage my quad this is not big nor clever after 26ish miles of trail running but it seemed to work and once it levelled out I started to really pace myself up to the finish with bags of energy fighting pointlessly for that finish line with a little grin on my face.

Competition in its best form is a test of self. It has nothing to do with medals. The winner is the person who gets the most out of themselves.

Boom done. Thank you Scarborough Moutain Rescue – Cracking route! I think I was 6th overall and 1st Female by about an hour or so. Something like that but results are all relative.

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