Howgills Half Marathon

A few months ago me and my beautiful wife were looking at races to enter, specifically a half marathon in April or May. It would be used as a warm up race for later in the year when Helen attempts the Lakesman half ironman distance triathlon. (Legally it’s not a Half Ironman as it isn’t an M-Dot race, and therefore it must always be referred to as a half ironman distance race.) I digress. After looking at various races we decided that the Howgills Half Marathon organised by Epic Events would be perfect.

We had both done another race in the Montane Trail Series last year in Grizedale which had been a brilliant race (read about it here). I had also done the Howgills Triathlon a couple of years ago, which should have rung warning bells as the run had gone up Winder Fell (read about it here).

With a 10am start from Sedbergh, which is only a 30 minute drive, it wasn’t an early off, although Nelly, our unruly Pointer, knew that we had our running gear on and was most perturbed when we left her at home. As with all trail races there was a mandatory kit list, especially as it always seems to rain in the Howgills, except for last Sunday, when it was sunny, hot, dry and hardly any wind.

20190512_094222

We arrived in Sedbergh in plenty of time, parked in the correct field and picked up our numbers and t-shirts, before queuing to use the port-a-loos (very unpleasant).

There was also a marathon on who were setting off 20 minutes before our race, so we cheered them on as they set off. We then had a quick chat with Steve, an old friend who had completed the Bowland Half Marathon with us last year in horrendous conditions (read about it here).

Once we were off the route went directly up Winder Fell, dropping down slightly before heading up The Calf, which tops out at almost 700m high. There was then a very pleasant section along before the two routes split off with the marathon runners continuing on while we turned right. There then followed two very steep technical descents, where as always I was overtaken by more than a handful of runners. I really need to practice running downhill.

There then followed a short out and back section to the feed station set up on a farm near Narthwaite. I re-filled my water bottle and grabbed a couple of Jaffa Cakes before setting off over the very narrow footbridge. I waved at Steve as he was running towards the feed station and set off towards Sedbergh. The next few miles were fairly easy going along footpaths with very little climbing. We had been warned about the final hill, but after Winder and The Calf how hard could it be.

Swearing, lots of swearing, that’s how hard it was. So steep I was almost crawling up it. We didn’t even go all the way to the top, but it felt never ending. Eventually the route followed the contours of the hill before another steep technical descent. We crossed a small stream where I dipped my hat, which then promptly gave me a headache because the water was so cold. Finally I could see and hear the finish area way down below.

IMG_20190514_174556_063.jpg

The last downhill section on the road was hard on my tired legs, but moments later I was running around the field and through the finish funnel, to be handed water and a medal. As I was coming towards the finish the announcer was starting the prize giving, beginning with the vet 60 winner! There are some very quick ‘older’ runners out there.

I headed to the car to drop off my medal and to change into my finishers shirt, before returning to the field to wait for my wife. As I was queuing for a coffee I spotted Helen running down the road, much earlier than I had been expecting. I hobbled over to the finish line for a hug and to congratulate her as it had been an absolutely stunning performance from Helen.

20190515_174159

Helen was a little emotional and also full of swear words, mainly about that f****** last hill. A few minutes later the winner from the marathon returned, in just under four hours. I can’t even imagine how he had run it that fast, although Helen pointed out to me that the marathon had hardly any extra elevation than the half, which made me feel slightly less old and rubbish.

Overall it was an excellent race; well marshalled with plenty of arrows out on the course. It would have been difficult to have got lost. We will definitely be doing more events from this series, although probably not this particular race. I think I am right in saying that it was the toughest half marathon that I’ve ever done. Three days later and my right thigh (my leading leg) is still sore from the descents.

Of course when we got home the day wasn’t over, as we still had to take Nelly out for a walk.

Advertisements

Forest of Bowland Half Marathon

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.

20181215_095124

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.

FOB 1_0217

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.

20181215_170044

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.

Remembrance Day Run

I came across Howler Events earlier in the year, and the wife and I decided to enter a couple of their trail runs. Most of their events are based in the West Pennines, which makes a change as most of the trail races that we’ve done or looked at have been in the Lake District.

The Remembrance Day run started and finished in Huddleston, near Darwen, and was advertised as an 11 mile technical trail run which would raise money for Combat Stress, the British Legion and Bolton Mountain Rescue.

20181110_083456.jpg

We arrived at the Ranken Arms nice and early and had time for another coffee, as well as plenty of ‘faff’ with numbers and losing safety pins. We both also went with putting our numbers on our thigh, which was a real eye opener. I usually end up ripping my number on my arms, but on the leg it was like I wasn’t wearing a number. I can see why so many people do it.

There was about 200 people doing the event, and the atmosphere was very friendly and relaxed, with the organiser reading a letter sent home from the front during WWI. The start was a gentle affair, with queues to get through a gate and then over a sty, but no one was pushing or shoving, probably because most of us knew how many hills there would be. In fact I don’t think there was a single flat part on the whole route. Up and up we went, and then up some more. On the whole the first half was fairly good running without too much technical paths.

At the half way point there was a feed station, although I had water and snacks with me so I pushed on. At that point I was running with a local who knew the route like the back of his hand, which was handy as it wasn’t always clear where to go, even with red and white tape all over the place.

After the feed station the route went up and up again, with some stunning views.

20181110_102536.jpg

Not being worried about how long the race would take I even stopped for a selfie!

20181110_102708.jpg

The second half of the race was more difficult, with rocky paths and uneven moorland to traverse. I found myself in a group of three other triathletes who were good company, and one of us was always on the look out for the trail markers so that we didn’t go off course. A few people did, and a couple of very fast women overtook me on more than one occasion.

On one particular technical uphill section I looked at my Garmin and saw that I had completed ten miles. “Only one more mile to go” I said, with a smile, to the guys I was running with. It was obvious that we were going to be doing more than the advertised 11 miles.

The last two miles were back the same way we came, although I saw a couple of people running the wrong way as they weren’t too sure that it was correct. A bit further on and three women missed a left turn but I waved at them and then opened the gate for them as we headed up the last but one steep hill, before the final push back to the pub.

20181111_105621.jpg

The medal at the end was very well designed and is easily one of the best in my collection. I quickly changed my shoes and socks and headed back up the first hill to watch and cheer my wife. While waiting I saw another three runners go the wrong way, although they were too far away for me to shout to.

I then spotted my wife’s distinct bobble hat as she laughed and smiled her way up the last but one hill. Big hugs at the finish line and a quick dash for home to take our loyal pooch out for a walk. She would have been a nightmare if we’d brought her with us as she doesn’t like running on the lead.

The final distance for us was approximately 12 and a half miles, but Howler Events don’t charge for extra miles. We were fortunate with the weather once again, as it didn’t rain and it wasn’t too cold, although on another day this event could be very tough. Overall a very well organised event and both me and my wife are looking forward to the Forest of Bowland half marathon in December.