We had some very bad luck. Almost hilariously bad.
Where to begin? At the beginning I suppose. We met our lovely support crew – Stacy and Joanna – in North London to pick up the rental cars, then hit the road. Morale was not exactly high. K was feeling sleep-deprived; Q was still feeling pleurisatical (note – the ‘ical’), but Rowena and Andrew were chipper enough. At around 9pm we realised we were probably not going to make it in time for registration, and then we discovered that we (ok, Q – not that we are allocating blame here) had forgotten to save the number we’d been given to call to register remotely. Bad news.
In the end, we arrived (after getting lost in a not particularly attractive suburb of Leeds) at the registration point about 20 minutes after registration had closed. Some nice volunteers told us we’d be fine if we registered the next morning before setting off – which was going to have to be at about 6am. That left us a total of 6 hours of sleep – if all went to plan – to get in before race day.
All did not go to plan. We arrived at the hostel we had booked about half an hour after they had shut the registration desk. We only managed to get in the building because some small boy took pity on us. Intrepid Rowena then went from room to room, looking to see if there were any spare beds for us to crash in, getting shouted at by crotchety old women for intruding on their ‘private rooms’. (And I, attempting not-so-intrepidly to do the same, managed to surprise a very naked man who was obviously in the middle of some nocturnal stretching/yoga routine; not pleasant.)
In the end, Rowena stealthily snuck into some family’s ‘private room’ and spent the next five hours in an unmade, stinky bunk-bed (covered, bizarrely, in plastic bags), trying not to move lest the inhabitants of said room discover her intrusion. Joanna, Stacy and I crashed on the couches of what looked like a sitting room. It was horrible, and stuffy, and smelt like old cats…and at about 1.30 am, I got the keys to the car from Joanna, and retreated to the relative calm of the car.
And there I found Qudsi – fast asleep in the front seat, with the headlights on. I decided that I had to wake him up. If he ran down the battery, we wouldn’t be making it to the start at all. What I hadn’t quite realised was how terrifying it would be to have someone – wearing a headtorch – tapping gently on the glass window of your car at 2am…Q was not happy.
In the end, K and Rowena didn’t sleep at all; Q probably managed about 4 hours, and our support crew something similar. Andrew had – sensibly – brought a tent, but was woken by the dawn chorus of Yorkshire birds at about 4.30am; and then again by me at 6am. (My chirpy ‘Good morning Andrew! Have you registered us yet?’ was met with ‘Katherine, it’s 6am; I haven’t had my coffee; don’t wind me up.’)
We were a weensy bit late for registration; and a little bit later for our start time. But by around 7.10am, we had finally set off. (As we crossed the start line Q said ‘maybe we should stop and have a talk about how we are going to do this'; the rest of the team thought that we would probably find the time for that chat at some point over the next 24 hours…)
We caught up with the rest of the trailtrekkers who had actually started on time about 15 minutes later. Then – fueled by sleep deprivation and a little delirious – we started overtaking them.
By the time we had arrived at the first water stop, we had settled into a rhythm and were moving quickly. We met our support crew coming into Checkpoint 1 (about 18km in), and were told that there would be a ‘spot’ kit check by mountain rescue on the way out. Now we had most of the ‘essential items’ with us (notwithstanding the fact that it is a bit ridiculous to be required to carry around a warm hat and gloves when it is 28 degrees out), but we didn’t (exactly) have a whistle.
When asked, Rowena said that she had a ‘whistle application’ on her iphone…which was sort of true. Genius. Luckily, she wasn’t asked to demonstrate the application, but this was mostly because another member of the mountain rescue team claimed that he had the application too…we made a quick exit from CP1, while they tried to get the other man’s iphone to whistle…
The road out from CP1 was fairly rocky and mountainous – lots of scrambling over rocks, and steep ascents. Rowena channeled her inner mountain goat, and led the way. I struggled a bit bringing up the rear, coughing loudly and making unpleasant phlegmy sounds. We were met by a marshal at the top of one of the hills who told us that we were the second and third woman that he had seen. (He meant in the event; not in life, I think.) The support crew then left us to return to the car, and to purchase the essential lunch items that we had requested (bean salad; lots of bean salad).
The route from CP1 to CP 2 was long – about 15km; and hilly. This was the bit that took in Pen-y-Ghent – a nasty, nasty hill, that loomed in the distance, and made some trailtrekkers (me) very, very nervous.
Some kind organisers had, however, set up a rogue water stop – right before Pen-y-Ghent – dolling out hobnobs, crisps, and Gatorade to get us through to the next stop. As it turned out – the route took us up about 2/3rds of the peak, then veered left right before the steepest part of the ascent. Couldn’t have been more grateful to the lovely organisers. Bless ‘em.
Then it was mostly downhill into CP2. At this point Rowena started looking a little woozy – she was having stomach trouble, and had only been able to keep down about a thimblefull of water since the last checkpoint. By the time we met the lovely support crew (who had bought us ‘party poppers’ to serve as our whistles for the remainder of the course), she was unsteady on her feet and looking decidedly green.
We took her to the first aid tent for some anti-nausea pills, but they recommended instead that she drink the lucozade (according to Rowena, the discussion with the first aid lady went something like this: ‘I’m feeling dehydrated and dizzy; have you got any anti-nausea pills?’ First aid lady: ‘No, sit down here.’ Rowena: ‘I don’t want to sit down. I want some pills.’ First aid lady: ‘We can’t do that; have some lucozade.’ Rowena: ‘Ew.’ First aid lady: ‘You have to. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you drink any water. It’s completely useless. Have the lucozade.’ ‘ At the time, it seemed slightly bizarre advice to give someone suffering from dehydration…but it did work. About 20 minutes out of CP2, Rowena had started feeling much better, and was cheerful enough to start bleating at the sheep again.
I don’t remember much about the route from CP2 to WS3 – it was fairly uneventful, and we were keeping pace well. Andrew, we discovered, was an excellent pacer. He went the same speed, whether it was uphill, or downhill, all the way through the trek. (Unless we shouted at him to slow down; which we had to do sometimes.)
WS3 to WS4 was more memorable – that was the bit where I got bitten by a dog. Just what you want when you’re 50km into a trek, with 50km to go.
My own fault, I suppose, for remarking – shortly before the nasty beast attacked – that maybe our luck had turned for the better. It was a sheepdog – we were on a road past a farm property…she eyed us warily, trotted along side us, circled back behind Andrew, then growled and made a running drive at my right ankle with her teeth. Not nice. But it did make me go a little faster. Perhaps she mistook me for a sheep, and was just trying to herd me?
I got the bite checked by the staff at WS4 (who were absolutely lovely, and seemed very excited to have their first ‘incident’ to deal with), and then we headed out towards CP3. We knew that we’d be getting into CP3 just before dark – the Oxfam staff offered a hot meal (for those who could eat it; Rowena was left with a tasty plate full of plain rice), and – after a short delay due to some navigational hiccups – we met the support crew, and changed into our ‘night gear’ – headtorches, waterproofs and the like.
We had done the section after CP3 in training; we knew that it started out flat, but that there was a very, very nasty hill in the middle. (Andrew – true to form – had brought a flask of whiskey with him; we had a ritual of rewarding ourselves with a swig for every checkpoint we made it to; we added in an extra motivational swig once we got to the bottom of said hill.)
About halfway up the hill, the rogue water stop people had returned; this time with more hobnobs and lucozade to help us along the way. We stopped, briefly, to top up our water bottles, then headed off and up. Nighttime navigation was made somewhat easier by the glow in the dark markers that had been left along the way; they were – for the most part – reliable, but there were some inexplicable gaps that left us wondering whether we had wandered off course. We hadn’t. At the top of the hill, the track flattened out into an open plateau, then we started heading downhill into CP4. Morale had lifted again by this point – and we were entertaining (ok, mostly annoying) other trailtrekkers with our half-remembered versions of 90s soft-rock classics.
We met the – now very sleepy – support crew at CP4 at around midnight. Q sat down to tape up his blisters and discovered that he couldn’t get up again. His knee had given out. Not good. (Knees being fairly important body parts in this sort of event.) We sent him off to the first aid tent, where they taped him up. He was now walking with a limp, but he was incredibly determined, and kept the pace through to the next section. (This might be an appropriate time to mention that Q had – about 40km in – started coughing up blood again; he didn’t tell us this, however. Which is probably a good thing, because if he had, we wouldn’t have let him continue.)
There was a big hill out of CP4, which had us traipsing through the moor, looking for markers in what was now complete darkness. The terrain was very unsteady, and Rowena had started to get dizzy again. We knew things were very bad when she tripped, and collapsed on some rocks. It didn’t look good. The nausea had returned, and she wasn’t able to keep any food or water down. (This didn’t stop me from attempting to force feed her chocolate; sorry about that Rowena.)
We sat down for a bit, and planned our strategy for the next section. We just needed to get to the next Waterstop. It would be the last one, and we could decide then what to do. What we couldn’t do was stop in the middle of the open moor – with no mobile phone reception; nothing Rowena could keep down, and no clear idea of where we were. So we headed off again, slowly, down through the longest section of the course, into the last Waterstop.
By the time we had arrived, spirits had revived, and everyone was feeling a little bit better. Health check: Andrew’s knees were shot; I had a blister that had taken over my entire left heel; Qudsi was now doing a strange arm-swinging limp/hobble that looked a bit like the kind of dance move you’d see at a geriatric hoe down; Rowena had recovered, and would serve as Chief Pacer for the last – and extremely brutal – 10km.
Andrew and I knew, but hadn’t told the others, that there was another large and nasty hill on the last section. We weren’t sure whose idea it was to put it there, but it wasn’t very nice. There was also quite a lot of uneven ground, which played havoc on Q’s knee injury. About halfway up the hill, we met another team (who had passed us earlier in the route), and walked past them down into the last downhill section to the Finish.
We knew – I think – that we were going to make it when we saw the ‘5km to go’ sign. From then on, it was a matter of looking anxiously for the next signs: ‘4km'; then ‘3km'; then, at ‘2km’ we passed the caravan park/hotel we’d stayed in on our training run. (We had to persuade Andrew that no, he could not stop at the bar for a pint. Besides, it was 5am, and they wouldn’t be open.)
At 1km, we saw a marshal who told us (confusingly) that we just had to ‘follow the road round’ and we’d be met by another marshal who’d tell us where to go. We almost got lost in the suburbs of Skipton, but finally saw a marshal who directed us onto yet another path – the last one! – towards the finish.
We were met by lots of cheering volunteers; given medals, photographed and told that we were the ninth – yes ninth – team to finish overall.
I think we ended up ranked 3rd for the mixed teams; and R and I placed 4 – 5 in what everyone kept referring to as the ‘ladies’ race’. Since when was this a race?
…or, rather, the ‘Chemist’, lest you get the wrong idea about our law-abiding trailrekker team.
Q and I wandered into our local neighbourhood Boots yesterday to stock up on supplies for the trek.
Here’s what we bought:
- Painkillers x a million (for obvious reasons);
- Day Nurse Tablets x 12 (mmm, pseudoephedrin; in case K’s current plague-y chest cough is a cold);
- Hayfever Tablets x 14 (in case K’s plague (see above) is allergy-based);
- Compeed Stick x 1 (bizarre little stick that you rub all over your feet for the prevention of blisters; it works);
- Compeed Patches x 15 (little patches of synthetic skin; in case Compeed Stick doesn’t work)
- Plasters (in case neither of the above works);
- Zinc Oxide Tape (for dodgy knee);
- Deep Heat (for shin pain, leg pain, and/or just for the pleasant tingling sensation);
- Vaseline x 1 tub (for reasons too unpleasant to mention).
Unsurprisingly, we got a few strange looks from nosy people whilst waiting in the queue.
The lady at the till, though, seemed unfazed when I asked her if it would be okay to take the hayfever tablets, the painkillers, and the day nurse tablets in combination, just in case. She said I’d be fine.
Well, that’s what I like to hear.
…please, please be nice.
Not a drop of rain on a training run; not one. Then, this.
But we live in hope.
And things are looking…interesting.
Unfortunately, the one, healthy member of our team has been beset by a bizarre Victorian ailment, leaving him short of breath and coughing up all manner of nasties. (Apparently, it is not consumption, or TB; the doctors don’t really know what it is, but my vote’s on pleurisy.)
What to do?
We are (technically) allowed to start with 3 team members, but that doesn’t leave us with much room to manoeuvre should another person need to drop out (if you get down to 2, you have to get another team to take responsibility for you, and get the ‘adoption’ approved by the race officials…sort of tricky to do between checkpoints at 3 in the morning).
But Q, being Q, thinks he should be okay to start, but that – realistically – he’s not going to be able to manage the full 100km. The difficulty – for Q – will be knowing when it is sensible to drop out: no one feels particularly good going up and down mountains for hours on end. How to tell if it’s the pleurisy or just the general exertion that’s making you feel wretched?
In the end, we’ve settled on a – slightly ruthless – pacing strategy, which (we hope) will avoid us having to leave Q in the middle of nowhere, left to the mercies of the wild animals of the Dales…
So the Trailtrekkers went on a little road trip last weekend. It involved waking up at 6am on a Saturday morning, and driving to ‘The North’ to see what the actual course had in store for us. This would be our first outing to the Yorkshire Dales, and our only chance to train on the trail (or parts of it) before the event.
One of the Trailtrekkers was still recovering from the flu; another had decided to take up smoking; and, most worryingly of all, another one of us hadn’t been able to eat anything of substance in the past four days, and was subsisting on water and the occasional piece of banana. Not the most auspicious of circumstances to be attempting our most grueling and ambitious walk yet.
Our plan (such as it was) was to head out on the course in the early afternoon, and keep walking till darkness fell. (Qudsi was especially keen to try out his new – fluorescent green – headtorch.) Sadly, that was not to happen.
We set off around 2pm, having checked into our inn/caravan park, and (in Andrew’s case) having downed a pint of lager ‘because it’s the weekend.’ We decided to do an out-and-back walk – 19 km out, and 19km back – taking in the penultimate section of the course, as it was the bit we were most likely going to be doing at night.
This involved reading the directions on the instructions given by Oxfam in reverse order, but our Chief Navigator managed to ensure we didn’t get lost. (This was a pretty remarkable feat, given that large parts of the walk take you through open moorland – which will be a challenge, to say the least, at night.)
About 12km in, we realised that all was not well with our Chief Mess Officer. She decided to soldier on through the next 10km or so, and then took the (entirely sensible) decision that – as she was turning a worrying shade of green – walking a further 4 hours in the dark was a bad thing to attempt when you hadn’t been able to eat for four days. So we (somewhat heartlessly) left her in the pub at the Checkpoint stop, and carried on.
Some trailtrekkers had been promised whiskey upon return to our digs, so we finished the last section in surprisingly good time and, in the end, there was no need for headtorches. (It stays light till quite late in the Yorkshire Dales!)
Lessons learned from our last training walk:
1. It is a good idea to eat.
2. It is a bad idea to sit down for more than about 10 seconds if you want to be able to move again.
3. The Yorkshire Dales are really, really beautiful.
4. The Yorkshire Dales are really, really hilly. (And Dale-y.)
5. Under no circumstances should I be left in charge of navigation.
6. We should probably think of a better game to entertain ourselves whilst walking than ‘how many kinds of cheese can you name?’
7. We have heard several stories of people starting trailtrekker; no stories yet about people actually managing to finish it.
8. People in the North are friendly. Scarily so.
9. We should probably go on another training walk.
Trailtrekker training walk no. 2 this weekend.
This time, Andrew was in charge of organising it. We were a little worried when we heard that the unique selling point of this walk was its proximity to the M25, but it turned out to go along a nice stretch of the North Downs, and to take in quite a few hills.
There was also a big tree.
It was steeper than our last jaunt, which made our downhill running attempts exhilarating. We haven’t yet mastered the technique, but apparently, downhill trail running is a lot like skiing – ‘crashing is part of the deal’.
It was even more challenging for Andrew, because he had to run while reading the directions on his i-phone. (Andrew has been promoted to Chief Navigator; Rowena, formerly Chief Navigator, has now been re-assigned to a new and exciting role as Chief Mess Officer. Rowena is a gluten-intolerant pescatarian, so we’re hoping that putting her in charge of food for the duration of our 24 hours on the trail doesn’t mean we have to survive on free-range organic soy loaf.)
This is a woodland cow (courtesy of Rowena’s wildlife photography skills).
Oh, and Qudsi is now Chief Fundraiser – thanks to the generosity of his friends, he raised £198 pounds in one day. That leaves us with only £1800 to go! (Please, please sponsor us!)
Attendance: 3 out of 4
Weather: More sun!
Distance: Don’t know – shortish; maybe only 15 km.
Time: Around 2.5 hours (not counting our lazy stroll down from Box Hill).
Wildlife: Deaf cat. (Very dangerous.) Woodland cattle.
Injuries: knee trouble; hay fever; tree-climbing grazes. All fairly minor.