Race Report Ingleborough Mountain Marathon
Date: Sat 16th May 2015
Race: Ingleborough Mountain Marathon
STACies: Stu Gall, Helen Swallow, Wanda MacDonald and James Gray
Distance: 43.2km (26.8 miles)
Elevation Gain: 1059m (3474ft)
The running challenge set for the 16th of May was the Ingleborough Mountain Marathon. Four STAC runners (Myself, Wanda MacDonald, Helen Swallow and James Gray) thought this would be a perfect way to spend a Saturday. The course was to be a demanding 26+ miles of off road terrain and would take us to the top of Yorkshire’s 2nd highest mountain, Ingleborough (see course route below).
After a nice drive through the Dales we soon arrived in Clapham, which is a lovely Yorkshire village, well worth a visit when not contemplating a mountain marathon, and went to the registration. The organisers of this race are the Cave Rescue Organisation, which helps people in distress either above or below ground in the Yorkshire Dales. The Race HQ was in the CRO headquarters and an impressive array of rescue equipment and vehicles was on show, hopefully we wouldn’t need any of this today I thought. The registration consisted of a “hi how are you”, “what’s your name”, “here’s your number” and “would you like some flapjack” – this is my kind of race!!!
James had already decided to go for a quick time having run this race in just over 6 hours last year. However I was suffering big time from pre race nerves. I had only done this distance once before, at the Chester Marathon last October, where I suffered a breakdown at 18 miles and limped home in 4 and a half hours. I’d also been carrying an “overtraining” knee injury since the Trollers Trot in March and hadn’t run any further than 10 miles since. However “off road” is my favourite terrain and the navigation element of this race (it’s largely self guided) didn’t phase me due to the orienteering events that I run frequently. I therefore decided to navigate for STACs seasoned distance runners Helen and Wanda and hoped that I would last the distance at their pace.
Start time soon beckoned and after a countdown from ten, we were off and running with the 100+ other competitors along a rutted track and through a couple of tunnels. After no more than 400 yards we were met with our first steep hill and the majority of the field (ourselves included) slowed to a walk, however James powered up this incline with ease and headed off into the distance.
One of the things I like most about off road / ultra events is that walking is not seen as a negative factor, all bar the elite runners tend to walk the “ups” in order to preserve energy for later in the race. Another aspect I like is that you don’t worry about split times, instead you listen to your body – where you feel good or where the terrain allows –then go faster and where the inevitable bad patches occur (and there will be quite a few within an ultra) then you slow down.
This led me to suggest a very simple race strategy.
(1) Walk the up’s
(2) Keep moving at all times – move through checkpoints quickly
(3) Enjoy ourselves
(4) Like the Marines never leave a “man” behind.
The first five miles were on good paths which wound gradually up Ingleborough’s south flank with us spending as much time walking as running. It was thoroughly enjoyable and we were able to take in the scenery and chat to other runners as there was still quite a group around us at this stage as this initial part of the route took the same path as the Half Marathon race. The first major challenge then loomed ahead of us, the hard pull up onto the top of Ingleborough. I led the way, confident in my footwear (I do love my X-Talon 212s) and soon only the final climb remained. This is where the path skirts along the edge of the steep drop down to the valley below. Helen took one look at the route ahead and suddenly exclaimed “Stu I can’t do this” (prior to this race I hadn’t realised that Helen suffers badly from vertigo).
I looked up at the final 50 metres of climb to the summit and replied “Don’t worry I’ll find us an easier way”. What I didn’t tell Helen is although I have climbed Ingleborough a good few times I wasn’t sure that that was an easier way from this point to the top. Fortunately our off the track route was a success and it wasn’t long before myself, Helen and Wanda were gathered safely at the highest and windiest part of the course – Ingleborough summit.
However as hard as the uphill to Ingleborough was I was aware that the downhill facing us was even steeper. James had told us earlier that this downhill section was his favourite bit, the “elites” favour an all out blast down the grassy slope by the wall however it was to be the steep path descent for us.
I would say that this short 400 metre downhill section was Helen and Wanda’s least favourite of the entire race. Slow and steady was the way we took it, and I tried to get Helen to always face the uphill slope so as to distract her from the drop. After nearly 30 minutes we were safely at the bottom. The dedication shown by both Helen and Wanda not to be beaten by this difficult terrain or vertigo amazed me. It certainly put my own pre race worries into perspective and although now just over a quarter of the way through the race, the “hard bit” was done and I was confident that team STAC would overcome all obstacles thrown up in the remaining 20 miles.
The next section was my favourite of the whole race, a 2km gradual downhill to near Chapel Le Dale. Confidence in my footwear and downhill technique meant I literally felt like I was flying, running completely freely bounding from stone to stone with glee. A quick glance behind showed that Helen was also enjoying the downhill but Wanda had dropped back. Even at this early stage the mountain terrain had shown up our respective strengths. Helen loved the rough technical terrain, I was stronger on the steep bits and Wanda could kick both our butts on the smoother flatter stuff.
The Ingleborough Mountain marathon, as well as taking in the mountain top also takes runners close to a number of the underground caves dotted throughout this region. To link up these caves the race route takes a number of “not on the map” paths and after a checkpoint at the bottom of Ingleborough we were striding off into territory unfamiliar to me. All the previous paths I had trodden on before on Yorkshire 3 Peaks attempts or climbs of Ingleborough. However now my navigation skills were being greatly tested and I set the pace not so as to keep us to a schedule but in order to get a clear view of the terrain ahead, check for expected features that should appear and make any necessary corrections before Helen and Wanda realised I had gone a little off track.
The running over these next 10 miles was a delight, spongy ground underfoot to lessen the impact to the joints and a mixture of moorland, limestone pavement, farm tracks with the occasional cave to gaze into too. We were making good progress on this section and caught up with some quicker runners who were unsure as to exactly where to go. Soon we reached the road crossing that comes up from Horton in Ribblesdale and another checkpoint, it was here that we dropped the majority of these runners as our no stopping technique left them behind. Note to self (and anyone else contemplating an ultra) drinking a whole 500ml bottle of water at the checkpoint so as not to carry it is not a good idea and leads to nasty stomach cramps.
The next 10km section was largely on the first section of the Yorkshire 3 peaks path or Pennine Way that skirts close to it. Interesting items included a steep in and out of a v shaped valley near High Birkwith and passing the remaining walkers who had set off an hour before us. This section also saw a combination of nice running grassy paths where Wanda led the way and rough stony tracks where Helen showed us how to do it. The miles were flying by really easily, the pace was comfortable without being strenuous and we were soon dropping down into Horton in Ribblesdale which marked the 19 Mile point and a chance for a much needed toilet stop (see previous comment about downing 500ml bottles of water).
Out of Horton the path takes the 3 Peaks route and starts to climb back up Ingleborough, this was the first major incline that we had faced since the first Ingleborough ascent and progress was slow, however team spirits were high. Helen had told us all along that she feels better once she has reached 20 miles of a run and that mark was fast approaching. However seconds later Helen slipped on a rock, took a tumble and then developed cramp as she tried to get back up. A very potent reminder that as good as we had felt and as well as we had run so far that a DNF (Did Not Finish) due to a fall or twisted ankle on this terrain could just be around the corner. However in true Helen spirit after a couple of moments to gather herself she was back up and running.
Looking around our group it was clear that we now weren’t showing as perfect a running form as earlier in the day, a number of niggles were starting to show. Wanda had tight quads which affected her downhill progress and my thighs had stiffened up making any big movements painful. Helen hid her afflictions well and continued onwards at a steady pace throughout.
The descent into the hamlet of Wharfe was next and on the way we passed two of my most spectacular scenic points of the race. The first was the descent off the limestone pavement of Moughton Scars into the typically Yorkshire scene of dry stone walled lanes, remote barns and trickling streams. This transition from desolate moorland into green managed farmland lifted my mood immensely and we now had “less than two Parkruns to go”!
The second scenic point was also perhaps my lowest point of the race, this being the descent into Wharfe itself. A long 3km downhill from Moughton Scars had taken its toll on my thighs and I was struggling, Wanda was skipping along in front and Helen was a few yards behind me and looked to be similarly enjoying herself. I tried to disassociate myself from the pain and instead concentrate on the surroundings. Here we were running down a winding walled lane in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales, the sun was shining and a carpet of bluebells and wild orchids covered the sides of the path with ash and birch trees casting shadows as we ran past. However all I could think about was ouch that hurts, oh bugger that hurts too. This mood only really lifted when we reached Wharfe and were back on a stretch of flattish tarmac.
We were now firmly in the closing stages and this is where the organisers decided to throw in a few curveballs just to mess with us (or so my mindset was telling me) We were now approaching Austwick, which as the crow flies is about a mile from the finish however we were forced to endure two out and back detours which included a fair bit of climb and descent. It was here that we caught up with another pair of runners and either through sheer stubbornness or some unknown competitiveness we were determined to beat them to the finish. We would gain a bit of a lead on them as we crossed the fields but then lost it again as we had to negotiate the many stiles and gates that barred our way. One particular gate caused me great difficulty and it was only after a good couple of minutes of trying to pry it off its rusted hinges as the lock and chains wouldn’t budge that we realised that there was a wall stile right beside us.
After the final one of these out and backs we were now on the track that would lead to the finish. A check of the watches and each of our Garmins then told us we were done – marathon distance completed, now let’s celebrate!! However a quick glance at the map told us that we still had over a km to go. I’m glad to say that we didn’t have a “toys out of the pram moment” and instead set off at quite a clip on up the final small incline. We were now back on the steep hill that we had first walked up over 6 hours ago. Helen definitely could taste the finish and tore off down the hill skipping over the ruts and bumps. Wanda couldn’t match this pace due to her tight quads and instead took the more measured approach down the hill and through the tunnels.
We then gathered together as a group and ran the last few hundred yards back through Clapham, into the CRO headquarters and up two flights of stairs (loved that final climb guys) to the finish desk. Race done in 6 hours 30 minutes dead and I have to say I loved every minute (well apart from the descent into Wharfe and the hilly out and backs in the final few miles). We were then presented with the medal and certificate for our efforts.
We were keen to find out how James had got on and unfortunately when we turned round we saw him resting his leg on his partner Helens knee in obvious pain. James had started strongly and ran all the way to the top of Ingleborough without stopping. This then caused him to be leading the race by around 5 minutes at the top of Ingleborough and he did indeed take the elite grassy descent down the other side. However at some point on the ascent he had smacked his foot down hard onto a rock which caused some discomfort. As he felt good and was leading the race he continued to run on it all the way round to near the 10 mile mark where he finally realised that this injury would not allow him to finish and his race was over. A visit to Leeds General Infirmary after the race thankfully revealed no broken bones and after a couple of weeks on crutches James is now back running,
Would we do the race again? Well almost as soon as I had finished I knew that I must come back to try for a quick time and I know James is keen to give it another crack. Helen however reached her “vertigo” limits in this race and I don’t think she will return. Wanda didn’t like the downhill but I can see her here again.
All in all this was a fantastically organised race, cheap to enter (£25) and held in wonderful surroundings. Running in the company of Wanda and Helen was awesome and I recommend this race to all those who can comfortably complete a half marathon. Hopefully see a few more STACs on the start line on the 22nd of May next year!!