Whitworth Trail Marathon

The Whitworth Trail Marathon appealed to me because it was a trail, a marathon or something like that and in a place that I hadn’t run before. It was underwritten by Team OA events who always put on top notch events (see White Rose Ultra and Oldham Way Ultra).

It was one of those Sundays where the weather gods had decided to fill up their buckets of fog and drizzly damp wet stuff and pour it all over the West Yorkshire moorland, exactly on top of the 26ish miles where we were running. Suffix to say that that the journey up and across the M62 (Highest Motorway Point in England) was not that pleasant, rain lashing down, fog lights on, windscreen wipers at max, yes that. That blazing summer heat was just a distant memory lost in the fog.

Weather is a great metaphor for life — sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and there’s nothing much you can do about it but carry an umbrella or choose to dance in the rain! – Terri Guillemets

Registration was easy and yes there were spot kit checks as I got asked to pull out my waterproof trousers. So there we go, all these debates about why people have to carry waterproof trousers – its only an extra 120 g that’s about the amount of two gels, so come on just carry them as one day you may need them. (ref. Devon Coast to Coast where I did actually put them on)

There were two distances, the half and the full. The full route was a bit of a figure of 8, but without going right back to the finish. The half veered off after 12 miles back to the finish. So with a mass start, wind blowing, horizontal rain amongst shivering runners the RD didn’t make us stand around too long.

The route had been marketed as ‘fully marked’ and I had downloaded the GPX file that had been provided so felt quite confident just running and switching off. We weren’t given maps either which gave me extra confidence that it would be easy to follow.

I hung around the back of the pack talking to Caroline who I had this time given the heads up on about the event after swapping heads up on for my last event (ref. Dovedale Dipper a few weeks before). Before we knew it drenched runners had surged forward and raced off. I’d got my cap on and before I knew it it had blown off into a puddle of mud, I tried again but once again as I left Caroline and went at my own pace over taking a few of the runners my cap blew off again so I gave up and packed it in my rucksack. It was a little chilly and drizzly as the clagg moved over with us. The ground soggy and squidgy in places as we hit the moorland. Fun I call it, fun.

The pessimist complains bout the wind the optimist expects it to change the realist adjusts the sails

The half and full runners were all mingled together and so far it was easy to follow with little flags spaced about 45 to 60 seconds apart (with my running). So it seemed relatively straight forward to switch off and run as I squelched through the muddy grounds and onto the real moorland. Such fun, such fun, despite the grey misty views of beautiful clagg.

A couple of dog walkers moved out of our way as we moved forward. I whizzed past the first checkpoint as water supplies were good and I was all good for food. A delightful route so far, despite the disappearing views and the route was easy to follow.  So far it was a ‘switch off and run’ type of trail run.  Nice. There seemed to be more ‘fell-like’ terrain than ‘trail’ around this point, the big give away was such that during a ‘dip’ in the land I found a guy with his hand in a peat bog. ‘You OK?’ I asked ‘I’ve lost my shoe’ came the reply. Classic fell like bog terrain then. Such fun.

Around 8 or 9 miles in either I caught up with a girl or she caught up with me, I can’t remember which but we ran together for a while with a bit of pleasant chit chat across the moors. I then dropped down at my own speed and descended onto the Pennine Bridleway trying to avoid getting run over by the off-road motorbikes that were hurtling along down the moorland. I was feeling pretty good at this stage, quite happy dilly dallying along on my own, no one in front of me, I kept pushing, not wanting to check if the few runners that had been behind me were anywhere close. I lost my bearings (I didn’t get lost I just lost my sense of direction) when I saw some parked cars in the distance and a little yellow one that looked identical to mine. As I got closer I then realised that I was nearly back at the start, although the race route did a loop around the ‘start/finish’ area for 2 miles before looping back around another way for the full marathon runners. The second checkpoint I filled up with water and grabbed some fig biscuits. I felt sorry for the marshal there as she looked rather cold.

Trail running is something totally your own and absolutely worth sharing

The girl who I had previously met then caught me up and asked if we were going the right way. ‘You are doing the half aren’t you?’ she asked. ‘Full for me’ I replied. We ran together for a bit chatting away about the route so far with only kind words about how delightful the route was and how well marked the route had so far been.

At around 12 miles the route diverted off for the half and carried straight on for the full. A couple of friendly marshals said well done and told me I was 5th overall – cool! I will take that. So down a little trail, I went and directed onto the road by another marshal and then I descended down into some woodland.

I had sporadically been using the GPX file on my watch to double-check the route but so far it had been immaculately marked and there was little need to use the device. I had noticed on some occasions it had been slight off the line. However, as I entered the woodland I could see the line was veering far too much to the left and was rather confused at the lack of markers especially as there were a few pathways veering off to the left down to the river bank. I continued in a state of confusion and just as I was going to turn back I saw a marshal wave at me and direct me up a little banking and onto the viaduct. Great – back on track as I could see the GPX line and arrow once again become friends.

Across the viaduct I got into a groove, no markers here either but I continued convinced I was still on route, but as I ran on in my own little world I got called back by a marshal and told to go up a squeezy gap onto a pathway as that was apparently the route. A little confused I obeyed and went up as directed, then was totally lost. No markers with about 3 different paths veering off in different directions, the GPX telling me to go straight on off the path I had come from. I dilly dallied for about 5 minutes then was grateful to see two other runners come up and join me, we decided to go up one of the paths that I had already been up and down twice before dilly and dallying and worst-case scenario we’d just head back to the finish some 12 miles earlier.

I could see from the GPX file as we meandered around the lane that it was beginning to join up again with where we were, and the arrow and line had re-established their friendship once again – hurrah! I didn’t know whether to believe the GPX file or the marshal and still not sure which was the correct way but we ended up back onto a road that was from there on flagged immaculately. No harm is done off we go again – all in the name of adventure.

It feels good to be lost in the right direction

Following the flags to the next checkpoint around 16 miles in, I took a bit more water and a couple of jaffa cakes whilst chatting to the couple who had caught me up on the ‘lost path’ section. I then shifted on my own through lush bracken pathways following the flags.

Then I was on my own just me and the flags to follow across fog driven moorland and the whirling and whining of the wind turbines, the wind chill made for some chillyish moments but I was running with a smile on my face, just me and the fog, this was fun, it felt fun, it felt comfortably fun.

Round the wind turbines nothing else mattered in the world, it was a bit like the wold was revolving around my feet as I just ran more into the fog, I couldn’t see much in front of me apart from the flags. I worked out once on a big wide track that the markers were around 45 to 60 seconds apart this helped in terms of double-checking I was on the right pathway as the GPX file was now a million miles northeast of where I should be and I’d had a disagreement in my head with the arrow so I gave up on the device and concentrated on the flag markers.

The wind was whispering something to me, run faster, run smoother. The coldness sent shivers down my spine as I occasionally saw a shadow when the fog cleared ever so slightly, a glimpse of a ‘ghost runner’. A flash of something moving. My aim; I was going to catch this moving object up as it swiftly and elegantly disappeared into the claggy fog its shadow casting the odd flicker of brightness.

Even through the fog and clouds your dreams can shine through

As the fog cleared a little I began to draw closer to the shadow, and then caught it up. The ‘it’ was indeed a humanoid from this planet and from this race. We had a little chat as we ran on through the mist. Then I pushed on in my own eerie silence following the flags counting them every minute or so.

I turned around once or twice to see if Mr Foggy was still following me, he was so I was on on the right route still – sometimes doubting my own mind, especially given the GPX file had all but dispersed into the fog itself. My legs were a little tiresome as my body was beginning to fatigue some 22 miles or so in.

Stay focused on the path and the goal will ensure you don’t give up.

The route turned off flagged nicely and I was on a wider more easy-going track I knew the next checkpoint was soon upon me, where I would fill up for the last time with water this time. A van was precariously perched on the banking, was this the checkpoint? Oh yes, it was as I got offered some water and got told that I was the ‘first through’ that they’d not seen anyone else or something like that. I assumed wrongly they meant female rather than male. I went on my way as they told me to head down into the spangled heather and across to a concealed stile.

Off I went thinking I was 3rd overall so far and wanted to keep that position as it’s quite a nice overall position to come in a race. Through the heather and around a contour I nearly lost my way as I lost sight of the little flags for a moment or two hidden in the tall reeds and grassy bankings. I took a u-turn back down one of the bankings, skipping and jumping over the tussocks of grass around a narrow pathway. I was feeling remarkably bright as I hopped over a bridge and made my way up another banking to a gate and an easy-going farm like lane.

From there on just a couple of miles to go. A bright yellow arrow pointed down and I could finally see the village again from where I had come from, down down down down, what goes down had to go up again – oh yes. Up up up up. Into the village, I ran crossing the main road – nice and simple with ample markings and up up up up the hill to the finish that I had driven up a few hours ago.

Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory. – William Barclay

Someone waved me on as I continued to ‘run’ (in the loosest of terms) up to the hill. I was still determined to keep my 3rd place. I did a cheeky glance behind me – nothing. I could now see the cars parked as I turned off towards the golf club. I was just about safe I thought as I turned the final corner and at that split second I began to walk, at that split second too I spotted someone walk down towards me – the race director. Run I thought at least pretend you are running, I thought. He gave me lots of words of encouragement and I had to run, I had to run, run run up up up run run run through the finish line, right through the finish line to be greeted by lots of nice claps and congratulations from the race organisers.

At this moment I was told I was ‘first’. Thanks, I said in a bit of a daze, great event and all that chit chat, assuming once again they meant I was the first female. A few minutes later Mr Foggy came in, I joined in clapping him in too. We then walked back to the dry warm room chatting away about the day’s shenanigans. It was only then that someone came in and congratulated us being first and second. Huh, oh first? As in first as in won the race, as in won the race outright? I was confused but apparently, the guys in front of us had got a bit lost. So I’d actually won my first ever race – outright. Oh. Confused but Oh.

Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win. — Stephen King

I don’t think it actually sunk in until I saw the results later that evening or the following evening. A win is a win regardless of the event. A low key trail marathon but rather pleased at this little win for me. Its all relative at the end of the day. We do what we can with what we have and we just keep on running the best we can.

A superb event for its first year. OK a few hiccups and confusions around 14 miles in for the marathon runners but the half marathon route was impeccably marked. I wouldn’t expect perfection for a first time race anyway, I had a good few hours out on the hills, hills of hills that I’d not been around before, the markings on top of the moors were spot on, it was only around the more urban sections that the flags had been removed / taken away. My only suggestion would be to provide an accurate route map as part of the compulsory kit (downloadable or otherwise) or / and ensure that the GPX file is also accurate as on more than one occasion the GPX had gone running off on its own probably due to computerised mapping systems. Again just a little hitch and IMO GPX should only be a secondary backup tool anyway.

I look forward to seeing what the planned Ultra has in store for next year as I think this event could turn into something rather neat in the future. Lessons will be learned and plans put in place to improve and all will be good and everyone will be happy. Well as far as I was aware everyone was happy anyway and only good things were said about the event despite the urban hiccup. It’s those Humanoids you see….

Well done to the first of these events I say. Humanoids huh?

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