At the beginning of November me and my lovely wife took part in a Remembrance Day run organised by Howler Events (read about it here). When we had entered that event we also entered the Forest of Bowland half marathon, as it was much closer to home and we had cycled through Dunsop Bridge many many times. Knowing the area we knew that it would be hilly, and as the weather forecast was bad we packed extra layers, over and above what was on the ‘essential kit list’ that we had been told to bring.
There was also a full marathon on at the same time, although they were setting off an hour earlier and once they had completed the half distance, they would turn around and do the same route in the opposite direction.
We made it to the start with plenty of time and chatted to an old friend who had recce’d the route on a very wet day a few weeks earlier. There were also quite a few familiar faces from the previous event that we’d done. This is one of the things that I like about Howler events in that they are like a great big friendly family.
At the start the weather was cold and windy, but at least it was dry, for now. Despite this I was wearing two long sleeved thermal tops and my heavier waterproof jacket, leaving my lighter waterproof in the car. Full leggings, double layered thermal woolly hat and gloves. I felt a little bit overdressed for about the first mile where it was sheltered from the wind, but as soon as we hit the first hill I was very glad that I was wrapped up toasty. There were a few people who were wearing shorts or were without gloves. I always prefer to be wearing too much. You can always take it off if you get too warm, but if you get cold you can be in trouble, especially if you’re miles from anywhere on the top of a fell, hence the ‘essential kit list’. I will be completely honest, there was one item on the list that I hadn’t got with me, and that was money as I knew that on this route it would be useless. A fold-up foil blanket was a much better option.
As we set off we all went the wrong way, turning left before the bridge into Dunsop and not after it. Most people found that to be quite amusing. As I mentioned earlier, when we climbed up the first very long climb, the wind was absolutely freezing and I was grateful for my beard. It was still quite boggy at the top as most of us unsuccessfully tried to avoid getting wet feet this early in the race. The route then dropped down to the first feed station at about the five mile mark. I had a camelback and food so all I grabbed was a biscuit without stopping.
This section of the route I knew well having cycled it a couple of times on mountain bikes, the last time in similar weather. About a mile after the feed station I went for a drink, but couldn’t get anything. Water in the tube had frozen solid. This was a little worrying, although dehydration wasn’t too likely. (It did un-freeze before the end of the race). The section of the route was on a wide farm track with plenty of frozen puddles to keep an eye out for.
On the Howler Facebook page the organisers had warned everyone about the sharp left turn off this track, which about five or six runners in front of me completely missed, even though there was a great big arrow. What should I do? I chased after them. I caught up with one guy who had stopped to check the route on his phone, realising that he had missed the turn. I tried to get the attention of the other group. Fortunately the other guy managed to whistle loud enough for them to hear. While this was going on, the nearest runner behind me had tried to get my attention. With everyone on the correct route I set off down the steep and technical path.
It was about then that the leader of the marathon went past me in the opposite direction. I was so surprised to see someone that soon that all I managed to say was ‘crikey!’ As the route started to drop we were out of the worst of the wind as a few other marathon runners passed me. They were going to have a rough run into that headwind I thought to myself. It was also about this time that it started to rain, and soon it was raining hard, but not just rain, it was freezing rain. I already had frozen snot in my beard, but now ice was forming on my clothes. Three good layers was just about right for the conditions.
The last few miles were on a proper paved road, which was hard on my feet with trail shoes, and I almost came a cropper on some ice, as did my wife a little later, but before I knew it I was back in Dunsop Bridge and across the finish line. I wasn’t envious of the marathon runners as the conditions had seriously deteriorated, and I was very happy to see my wife safely across the finish line less than thirty minutes after me.
The race HQ was full of friendly chat as we were handed our excellent medals. Not wanting to get stuck in the area if the weather turned even worse we headed for home. Later on we found out that the marathon had been called off by the Bowland and Pennine Mountain Rescue Team, who said that it was some of the worst conditions that they had ever witnessed.
Reading between the lines on Facebook the following week I got the feeling that there were a few people who were not prepared for a winter fell race, and didn’t have enough layers. I saw some very cold looking people coming in. The next event from Howler is in Holcombe and pre-race information appears to be far stricter about essential kit, and that it will be checked and if you don’t have it with you, you won’t be racing. Which does make sense to me. Unfortunately, we left it too late to enter the Holcombe Howler, but good luck to everyone who has entered.
The Forest of Bowland half marathon was easily the toughest half that I’ve ever done, and it was very well organised from the whole team. A big thank you to everyone involved and I’m sure that we will see you all again soon.