Calderdale Hike Ultra

Twitter is like Marmite you either love it or hate it. I find it informative and useful for my little hobby. If it wasn’t for twitter I wouldn’t have been encouraged to do my first Ultra, or a few days previous to writing this, been knee high in bog and possess a massive bruise on my right leg from face-planting into a big bog. That’s why runners’ go to Twitter.

The Calderdale Hike – either a 26ish mile or 37ish mile walk or run around the awe inspiring South Pennines. Having had a ‘Did Not Start’ from the Oldham Way Ultra a few weeks before due to flu I was still in the mood for another ultra to prove to myself that I could still run, oh have pity on me please. This, the Calderdale Hike sounded a perfect opportunity and a good field trip.

The Calderdale Hike is part of the ‘Run Further’ series – a collection of events that have scoring attached. I only found out about the Run Further series last year after completing the Long Tour of Bradwell. The events are ranked short, medium and long and are all off road trail / fell terrain, self navigation. A snippet at £17 for 37 ish miles and 5500 feet of climb – it seemed a great way to spend a Saturday.

Courage to Start. Strength to Endure. Resolve to Finish.

I decided to enter ‘last minute’ as usual. I have this theory that if I tell people what I am doing then I end up either not making the event (e.g. Round Sheffield Ultra, Oldham Ultra), so I like to enter at the last minute, I am also a bit of a wimp and am never sure – indecisive at my best and so indecisive at my worst. So after failing to make the 8pm deadline on the webanet I managed to log on and enter an hour later, kindly the organisers gave me a place. I was indeed last on the list when I arrived on Saturday, number 121 lets hope I wasn’t last to finish. Still have pity on me?

The website had provided all the maps, compulsory kit and a gpx file. I had bought the South Pennines 1:25000 map and marked all the CPs from the grid references on the map with sticky dots. In addition I had spend the previous evening printing out little A5 maps and marking each checkpoint on them and numbering them per checkpoint so I could carry just one map at at time. I must get a laminator for future map printing and maybe a better printer, my 15 year old HP Inkjet may not be cutting the mustard any more, infact it is probably only printing mustard coloured maps given it is that old, more pity please?

In case you hadn’t already sussed, it was self navigation so not only would I need to navigate through 10 checkpoints – the organisers said at the beginning this is more of a navigational exercise, but also find the best (if racing – fastest) routes between the checkpoints. There was a suggested route but the key was to get to the checkpoints. The same rules as the Long Tour of Bradwell., however I had an advantage at Bradwell as I had reccied some of the route and knew the area well. I had never been to the South Pennines and certainty had no idea of terrain or routes apart from staring at an OS map. This would be a creative experience for me to run and navigate.

See the world from your running shoe

Over 100 runners lined up with some top names in the field including Karen Nash and the inspiring  Carol Morgan who I first met at the Ring O Fire  last year.

This was proper fell stuff, proper navigation proper rurality. It certainty wasn’t an easy option ultra but that was part of the challenge and part of the fun. This wasn’t meant to be a race for me but more a training exercise with like-minded ultra nutters.

We all sat off at 9am from the Sowerby Bridge Cricket Club, having driven up that morning in torrential rain, the heaven’s had closed a little despite it being a little cold. Raincoat was on but I had opted for shorts and long socks at the very last minute with my (boys) long skins in my race vest. We had compulsory kit check including a where’s your maps, compass and survival bag. A pound-land foil blanket would not pass kit check. I had just invested in a posh £15 SOL bivy bag after my Edale Skyline experience a few weeks previous. Water and emergency food clearly labelled with suitable footwear – flipflops or wellies?

Why was I doing another one of these events when at the time I despised Edale Skyline ? Because I want to challenge myself to something as demanding and experience a different area of the UK, the South Pennines. Fell runners are a different bread and its good to mix and match and most importantly learn. It’s all about the learning. I could have done an ‘easy’ Ultra – all way marked, all flat or I could have run around a track for 24 hours but I chose to run 37ish miles through some luxurious countryside, getting lost along the way, face-planting and meeting some great people.

Vary your training, your running partners, and your environment. Only your imagination limits the ways you can spice up your running routine. – Bob Glover

Running for me is about it being fun, an experience to take away from both the environment and physically and mentally within the body. It is not about beating the clock nor about beating the others per se. If I do well in the field then its just an added bonus, to finish and have experienced the event is my top priority and today I was going to do just all those things.

So off you go…

We left the Cricket club down the driveway, I was about 5 rows back, then suddenly the pack split one went down the road one went across the road, this threw a lot of people, I got disorientated as I thought I wouldn’t need my map / GPS at the start for the first mile or so. I chose the across the field route and packed myself mid pack across the first set of fields. It also confused a lot of others, I wasn’t the only confused one.

The first mile was a steep downhill fall, and then immediately a steep uphill struggle. Within a couple of miles everyone was stripping off, I did the same with my jacket and inelegantly tied it around my waist knowing when I hit high ground I would need it again. I was supporting a black t-shirt and my Raidlight long sleeved which I won at Round Rotherham 50 – another event part of the Run Further series – they were giving these tops away as prizes this time round too. I do like the Raidlight gear especially when it comes free.

Even before the first 2 miles had kindly beeped in, the first checkpoint at Longley emerged. We all had laminated check point cards and the marshals punched us in and out. I was still faffing on where to put my maps and my card, trying to tuck it down my race vest hanging onto pieces of string. Eventually I learned to tuck it into the chest straps of my vest where it was stable, along with the course maps.

People ask me, why do I run? I run because I can. Because when I do, there’s always the chance to be extraordinary. A chance to start unknown and to finish unforgettable. A chance to overcome all obstacles, to fight through pain and suffering to test your emotional limits and boundaries, to experiment with the potential of the human body and discover just how far you can push yourself.. – Laura Weisberger

Still going up there was a decent crowd of us running sporadically but ‘together’. The second checkpoint at Fiddle Lane wasn’t too far away either at exactly 3.2 miles. If it had been 3.1 miles I could have claimed to have done a Fiddle dee and fiddle dum Parkrun before anyone else had even warmed up for theirs. Through some woodlands we ran to the next checkpoint at Ryburn Reservoir. The skies went dark and the heavens opened just as I was getting punched. Perfect timing as the winds whipped up a frenzy I struggled to get my coat back on.

Through more muddy and cow pat infested fields which turned quickly into remote moorland onto the bleak tops. The wind was quite bitter at times but the sun was trying to push through the cloudy April showers. The landscape was beautiful, I took an opportunity to take some photos, a small stream of runners portraying this landscape as a runners’ paradise. A long push along small rabbit paths and a slight incline for a couple of miles of steady paced fell running made this section rather enjoyable. I was feeling alive and well without my race head on just trotting away across the vast moorlands of Rishworth Moor.

I was following my GPS route more than the maps, the GPS line said go straight ahead, other runners went down. I followed my black line and ended up the wrong side of a rather wide stream which was non jump-able or straggle-able. Other runners had found a lovely trail path at the other side and were whizzing past me as I struggled up and down the tuffs and ruffs of heather, mole hills, swamps and splat! I face planted straight into a bog, grazed my knee and muddied up every part of my body. ‘Don’t follow me’ I shouted to a guy behind me who had decided to take the same route, ‘I have no idea where I am going’.

Finally an escape bridge came in sight and I was back on a flat trail, which at this point I should have been enjoying but a simple navigational error and silly little stumble had thrown me out of sync with my own body. I need to learn to pick myself up and just get on with it. More pity please readers?

Pay attention and keep breathing

I sunk some macaroon bar into me, as I was aware I had barely eaten and was a good 1.5 hours into running. A handful of jellybean’s at one of the checkpoints wouldn’t get me through much further. It wouldn’t be a ‘Run Further’ but a ‘Run Lesser’ at this rate.

Green Withens Reservoir checkpoint soon arrived at around 9 miles. I was the only one around to get hole punched, punched in punched out and off I went in search of the M62.

This area is quite surreal, although an eyesore in the midst of the South Pennines the M62 motorway adds a special beautiful contrast. Then round to join the Pennine Way and over the motorway bridge for the only ‘out and back’ section to Windy Hill. The bridge must surely be called Windy Bridge the gusty winds pushing me side to side as I crosssed over the M62. Many of the front runners had long gone as others weaved their way back over the bridge to continue their journey. I waved at Carol and her fellow friends running strongly, good to see a familiar face at this point.

I was now on my own just me my maps my GPX and I, running along the Pennine Way up Blackstone Edge. I was in a happy little place. I could see just dots of runners way way ahead of me but no one behind like I have eyes in the back of my head right?. I was really enjoying this unfamiliar territory. There was something exciting about following an unknown route, not knowing what was coming next, stepping on territory new. On the top of the moorland the terrain and paved path merged into stones, trig points and cairns. I followed my GPS route around. Some walkers who had set off a couple of hours before us runners were enjoying the scenery as I passed them with friendly hellos.

Descending down from the edge towards the next checkpoint at the White House I decided to divert off the Pennine Way and take my GPS route, another fail, as I ended up way off track lost on the moors but able to see the checkpoint in the distance, staring at a deep concrete channel trough which could have had sewage running through it – luckily I was able to yank myself down the concrete gully and back up the other side, it was dry thank goodness! Other runners who had been way behind me had taken the decent path. Go me!

My Competition is not with the runner next to me. It is against the runner inside of me.

The White house checkpoint was well stocked, well we had run a half marathon by now. How would you feel after half a marathon of moorlands? The Checkpoint was serving morning tea, including cucumber sandwiches – with the crusts cut off, fancy cakes, scones with jam and cream and tea and coffee. Well nearly, they had tea and coffee, egg, tuna or cheese sandwiches and lovely flapjack pieces. I took a refill of water and an egg sandwich and piece of flapjack and left the checkpoint.

I was now on my own. Other runners had deliberately gone the other way as this was where the short route of 26 miles diverted off and the long route took the long way way around. Of course I was on the long route so I took the long way around.

I felt even more alone now, into the deep – unknown territory. I followed the path down then realised I had missed a turning retraced my steps and took a steeper descent down the banking. I was lacking confidence of navigation now, no one around me, feeling insecure inside but I knew I could read maps and the GPX file couldn’t be that inaccurate.

Make progress or make excuses. Your call.

At the bottom of the slope, there were a couple of choices to take, GPX was saying one thing, my maps another, I was confused. Two girls who I had briefly thanked earlier for pointing a couple of us in the right direction elegantly came flying past me as I stood deliberating which way to run. I decided to follow my maps (and the girls), who kindly told me I could have gone either way. Another guy called Adam caught us up as we formed a bit of a foursome for a couple of miles, admiring the sheep, the sun which was now shining out of the blue skies and the girls failing to open a couple of gates, thank you Adam for your manly help.

The next Checkpoint at Sladen Fold was about 15 miles in. But alas, it was not where we thought it was. It was in the car park of the mill, but in a different car park to what the route was telling us. Frustratingly we had to double back on ourselves, as other runners came smiling through the other way not having made the same mistake. We did find out later that some people had missed the checkpoint all together so we did well to find it in retrospect. I should have played around with the GPX file and marked the checkpoints on the file like I did with the Ring O Fire last year. Lesson learned.

I believe that when we face challenges in life it’s an opportunity to build on our faith, inner strength, & courage. – Sasha Azevedo

Finally we found the checkpoint and after grabbing some more jelly beans we went on our way again. I followed the girls out of the checkpoint, something really I shouldn’t have done as I don’t like following others without thinking for myself, but on this occasion it got me to the main road and back en route. The GPS route was back on track. Up more hills we went, I started chatting to Adam who I had found out had done the Wall Ultra a few years back and we both said the same thing about it – overpriced over commercialised and never again when you can run 38 miles for £17 (or £13 for 50 miles as in the case of Round Rotherham 50 with all inclusive food).

Back onto remote moorland we chatted more-some as a foursome finding out that the girls – Linda and Elise were local and telling us about the area. They had reccied the route a few times and knew all the little event ‘secrets’ as we were to find out when we bumped into them later in the day. We split off and took different routes along the moorland and lost the girls for the next 15 miles or so. Lots of runners and walkers were dotted about the moorlands it was a means of picking whatever route suited you.

So the space opens, the spirit of the motion, the run, taking me where it will

Even more remote moorland led us across some beautiful landscape, and down some beautiful rolling slopes towards the ‘Stepping Stones’ checkpoint. My watch beeped I took a peek 19 miles in, yet my maps were saying 18.2 miles so I had done a little more running that I should have done. Even here in the remote valley with not a road in sight sat two guys, one with clipboard recording the number and one with hole puncher to punch us in, oh how cute.

Look around, you’ll be reminded of why you run and why you love it so much.

No one could miss the long slog back up the other side, a good mile or so if not longer a slow slow but beautiful drag. Not many people around now, just a walker in-front, a guy behind and me. Simple. Following my route I double backed on myself up the sloggy hill. I was feeling remarkably fine for 19 miles but took this opportunity to sink in a large gel just in case I hit a dry stone wall. I don’t like using gels too much but felt I needed a bit of quick release energy and anyway it was Bakewell pudding flavour so it doesn’t count right?

At the top of the sloggy hill a guy was sat pondering his map, my GPX file had gone off track (not me of course it was always the fault of the GPX) so I got my map out, as I had numbered all my bits of paper based on the checkpoint having just passed CP 6 I pulled out piece of paper number 6 and looked at the map, straight down I thought but oh no I was disorientated as were a couple of others. We helped each other to make the decision to cut across the wild moorland, a diversion that we possibly really didn’t need to do.

Finally I rejoined my GPX route as another guy in the distance started heading towards us thinking he had gone wrong. Makes me realise I am not the only non confident runner at times! We informed him that it was us that had gone wrong but we were back on route as we took the faint field tracked path. I took a front-line to the group and ‘raced’ ahead – not because I was trying to chick the guys but because I simply wanted a wee. I nipped behind a dry stone wall then cheekily popped out shrugged my shoulders and commented that we were all human. No shame, its just a wee. A girl has to wee what a girl has to wee.

For the next few miles we ran in almost silent unison a silent camaraderie. I love this sort of thing, you run with someone, you don’t have to strike up conversation, or if you do sometimes it stops and you just enjoy the experience of ‘running’ together but alone at the same time. If someone goes slightly wrong or needs help you help them, you don’t just run by and crush them to pieces, you pick them up and put them back together again. Its the story of Humpty Dumpty.

Humpty Dumpty hit the wall too.

The whizzing of the wind turbines in the distance made for this unique location, running now on a comfortable track. The next checkpoint a road side checkpoint at Slatepit Hill served more sandwiches and flapjacks. There were four or so of us now, doing our own thing but within running distance of each other. I took a lucky dip sandwich which happened to be tuna, sunk that into my greedy mouth alongside a piece of chocolate coated flapjack and hit the trails once again munching happily thinking about nothing in particular. I must have been around a marathon in by now – ish.

I’m getting to the point where I can say the very best part of running is quite simply: running.

More moorland streamed ahead this endless landscape, across inchfield moor I ran. Down a steep banking I galloped, enjoying the fall of the contours. Through a woodland which I found out was called cock hill wood by the map (oh grow up – really) and down to the little village of Cornholme. Another guy caught me up, with map in hand very elegantly reading it as he ran. I was keeping an eye on my watch but with my backup paper pieces in my hand at the same time.

Approaching the village I pulled out my blow up ‘street print’ to ensure I would take the right pathway. I wasn’t going to follow someone else for the sake of it, who knows if they knows what the know is? The paper map and GPX worked wonders and got me through the village including up a cobbled street called ‘TO PITT’. Wish I had got the camera out then! Classic!

The course is flat if you use your imagination

Up Pitt I went, and up further. Just a little bit further and then there was more elevation. Onto a little bit of tarmac I ran, alongside a couple of others to the next checkpoint at Mount Cross, situated half way up what I thought was going to be a big climb. I should have looked more closely at those contours as the route then took us across some lovely pathways and down towards the village of Todmordon. Just before Todmordon another checkpoint ‘Cross Stones’ supported not only more jelly beans but friendly marshals asking if we were enjoying ourselves, ‘oh yes’ I replied, great fun – I’ve fallen in bogs and got lost more times than I can count on my fingers but a fantastic day out – loving it, thank you’ or something like that. I was still feeling alive and well even at 30 miles, Bingo!

Into the village of Todmordon, this was really easy to navigate, but I started day dreaming and nearly missed the little pathway back up yet another hill. I am sure you are gettin the idea this route is rather hilly? Ther were now three of us, Adam myself and the map reading guy called Mappy (not Matty).

The next checkpoint – Lumbutts Church wasn’t far either, located inside the graveyard. Maybe suitable if you are dying at this point?. With lots more sandwiches I filled up and took another lucky dip sandwich, I had got tuna again, double bingo!. I was feeling quite strong in the head and legs quite remarkable for 30 miles.

Suddenly a guy came hurtling past us, ‘WTF is he on?’ I commented, he must have been sub 8 minute miling as he powered up the hill onto the Pennine way path with stunning views of Stoodley Pike Monument. I found out later that he had been waiting an hour for his girlfriend and then decided to continue but was a very strong runner anyway. I had never seen anyone power so much after 30 miles that was incredible, and I thought I was feeling ok. Pah.

Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another. ~Walter Elliott

Up in front were two girls, were they running? They were the girls who we had hooked up with earlier. Myself and Adam caught them up. ‘Hi again’ we cheered. Linda and Elise had benefited from being local and taken different and much more economical routes than myself. Its all part of the fun on these events, learning to map read and take the best options, good on you girls. I had run at least a mile longer than I should have if not further.

We chatted some more and found out Elise and Linda was a very experienced fell runners, Linda having done a Bob Graham and ready for The Fellsman in 2 weeks time, The Fellsman is a crazy 61 miles with 11000ft of climb. The Calderdale Hike was a mere drop in the ocean compared to that.

We stayed as a group of four for the rest of the route. The girls very kindly leading us to the next checkpoint at Erringden Grange. More jelly beans. We were told this was mile 32 but my watch was showing nearly 34 miles – woopse!

Go the extra mile. It’s never crowded.

We crossed more fields and then headed up some steep and rather muddy pathways, another steep section required persistent power walking up a grassy banking scrambling to the top. I was still feeling remarkably perky after 36 miles, impressed I wasn’t bonking. The final checkpoint at Nab End Quarries was just a punch in and out some 3 miles or so and we would be ‘home’. My watch was registering at 36 miles so I knew I had done well over the necessary mileage.

The last couple of miles flew by as the four of us hooked up with other now flagging runners and chatting even more ‘Fell-talk’. I listened with trepidation, what these guys do is astonishing, crazy but yet amazing, all these crazy amazing runners, running in the hills.

If you run long enough, that tends to happen. Whatever quantitative measure of success you set out to achieve becomes either unattainable or meaningless. The reward of running— of anything— lies within us. – Scott Jurek

Here I was worrying I was ‘over doing it’ and that I would ‘trash myself’ for my potential next challenge, yet the majority of people here were all doing the Fellsman in two weeks, the Lakeland 50/100 in the Summer, some probably UTMB and most had done or helped out on 100s of Bob Grahams. Me, I had helped out at one Bob Graham – I felt a little inferior at this point but told myself I am who I am and I like what I like. I am not really a fell runner in the world of proper fell runners, and that’s just all fine, I am having a go and challenging myself in a different way. But hey I did do the Edale Skyline the other week and nearly cried. Does that count?

The four of us all came back to the Cricket ground together clocking in a time of 8 hours and 5 minutes. For over 55000ft of climb lots of getting lost over 38 plus miles I was more than happy to finish and punch every checkpoint. I could get out my stats and compare it to the Millennium Way ultra which I did in March – the same distance but nearly 2.5 hours faster, but these two ultras are at the opposite ends of the hillage scale. Both are brilliant events but very very different. That’s what I love about Ultra running – time is just time its the event that makes it an ultra different experience each time.

The Cricket club were serving up delicious looking jacket potatoes with a choice of toppings, ample free tea and coffee and fruit and Longley Farm yoghurt. I didn’t fancy a jacket potato so opted for the fruit and yoghurt a nice combination of sweet, liquid and protein swished together in a bowl and washed down with a couple of cups of tea. I chatted along with the group I had come in with, and met the female winner, the incredible Karen Nash. It was a pleasure to meet Karen – a far fetched experienced fell runner, total respect and all that. It had been a brilliant day in the hills, learning so much and enjoying the stunning scenery and super pleasant event.

When I go out and race, I’m not trying to beat opponents, I’m trying to beat what I have done…to beat myself, basically. People find that hard to believe because we’ve had such a bias to always strive to win things. If you win something and you haven’t put everything into it, you haven’t actually achieved anything at all. When you’ve had to work hard for something and you’ve got the best you can out of yourself on that given day, that’s where you get satisfaction from. – Ian Thorpe

Shock of the day came when they announced the prizes. The lovely Carol Morgan had bagged 2nd Female after Karen. Then third price for three joint ladies, Linda, Elise and myself – sharing a box of cliff bars. Without the two girls I would have taken the longer (said GPX route) on the last few miles. I shared a couple with Adam for the lovely company too. A complete added bonus, which I really didn’t expect. Certainty not on the fells.

No fancy t-shirt, no fancy medal just a gloriously unfancy certificate with name and time on it, alongside delicious gourmet ultra food, a demanding radiant route, superb marshals and punchers, a great team and a fantastic set of friendly fellies. I say it after each ultra I love this community of friendliness ultra fun. Why do I do this sort of running? Why can’t I just run 10km road races and half marathons like 7500 people would do the day after on the roads of Sheffield…

Love the life you live. Live the life you love. – Bob Marley

Well I was supposed to be doing that too…but alas it didn’t happen. I had signed up for cheap entry to the ‘Yorkshire Half Marathon’ a.k.a ‘Sheffield Half’ courtesy of a fellow club member Natalie, and was ready to run up and down 1000ft of climb and drop at around a 9 or 10 minute mile pace with fellow club members. But alas tummy problems the following day provided too much and although I made it down to meet fellow club members at the row of portaloos I did not make the start line. 30 mintues before the start I walked away basked in pain, shivering, shaking and whimpering like a whining wet dog. I assumed it was something I had eaten on the Calderway Ultra, although I had been suffering from what I thought was indigestion a few days prior to Calderdale and downing too much Gaviscon for compensation.

I am sure everyone else thought I had ‘overdone it’ and were probably thinking I was crazy to even contemplate the Sheffield Half Marathon. However, it wasn’t anything I had eaten, nor were my legs that trashed, my legs were all tuned with  One Direction – ‘Ready to Run’.

The pain continued into Monday morning and I was admitted to A&E, hooked up to a drip and prodded and poked in all sorts of places. The diagnosis was nothing at all running related nor was it the suspected appendicitis or anything more serious. It was however creating enough pain to be put on morphine and all down to the delightful pleasure of being born female. I walked away some 10 hours or so later hooked up with a plethora of drugs enough to stock your local pharmacy and certainty not being able to run for a week.  I am grateful and relieved that things are not too serious and I hope be back on the trail of love before you can blink. Now I don’t want any pity whatsoever,  I am appreciative of this moment, of my body, lucky to be able to do the things I love, we all have to overcome bumps here and there, some steeper than others. And you know how much I like hills. Live Life for it is an amazing challenge, embrace it and appreciate what you have not what you don’t have.


  • Time: 8.05 hours
  • Position: 28th out of 75 finishers
  • Gender Position: Joint 3rd Female (but really don’t want to claim this position)

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