Last year I tackled Hebden for the first time. It almost broke me. It was completely out of my comfort zone and to be honest it put me off endurance events for a while. I busied myself for the rest of the year undertaking a run streak and focusing on my speed, and really improved my PBs. It was only recently I decided to go back to marathons and I signed up to the Manchester Marathon with an ambitious goal of getting as close to Good For Age as I could, so I booked in some monthly trail races to help strengthen me up, and to complement the speed work and long road runs I’m doing. Hebden seemed a natural choice.
Once again this year we had a great crowd from our club Witham Runners tacking it. It’s a 22 mile race in the Pennine Hills run by the LDWA, and there’s a 15 mile short loop. I wrote 15 miles into my marathon training plan that weekend but signed up to the 22, just in case.
Following last year’s ice, I had been watching the weather carefully but it remained mild and wet, pretty nice trail running conditions actually.
I had arranged to run the route with Claire, who I’d met on the course the previous year, and Jason who was tackling his first ever event of this kind (and longest distance) so I was happy that the day would be at a nice relaxed pace with good company.
We arrived at Mythlmroyd church hall around 7:20am on a dark, cold Saturday morning to a teeming throng of Lycra clad athletes munching on toast and drinking tea. I love the atmosphere at these small events (field was around 400 runners and walkers) and I said hello to a few faces I recognised from Twitter, and found the rest of our club runners. At 7:55am everyone filed out of the door, around the corner to beneath the railway arches, and at 8am prompt we were off!
I set off at a very, very steady, conversational pace. Today for me was all about training – time on feet and some great hills to build strength. We had approximately a flat mile out along the canal – where my watch refused to pick up GPS signal – before we crossed a road and began our first climb. I planned to walk up the hills and run the flats and downhills. I don’t think I could have run the hills had I tried though – even this first short one was remarkably steep. As it levelled off, we crossed through a gate and were rewarded with the most beautiful view over the misty valley we had just started in.
I ran past the spot where I had fallen in the ice the previous year, and took the correct path through a gate we had missed in 2016 resulting in extra, needless miles. I mentally congratulated myself at exorcising those ghosts. Onwards to checkpoint 1 for juice, cake and jelly babies.
Jason, Claire and I chatted about running most of the way. It always amazes me how much I can talk about running – races I’ve done or want to enter, coaching tips, parkrun adventures, etc. Runners must be very dull people to those who don’t run because we really could talk endlessly about what we love to do.
The field had spread out quite a bit and by the time we reached checkpoint 2 there were no other runners in sight. Jason and I set off down the track after a few jelly babies and then heard a yell. We turned around to see a man behind us gesturing to his left. We had inadvertently missed the turning. That could have gone very wrong. At the end of that track, we thought perhaps we should get our written instructions out to check the route and figure out which of three gates we should go through, but our trusty navigator had caught us up again and once again pointed us onto the correct path. A lady in blue had also caught us up by this point and knew where she was going so we dutifully settled into a comfortable pace and followed our new leader.
I was really enjoying myself this year. No pressure, just beautiful views. I began to wonder whether I should do the full 22 miles. Claire had already decided she was going to continue on at checkpoint 4 to do the additional 7 miles. I was tempted.
We reached checkpoint 3 after a very nice, fast downhill which the previous year would have been safer on a toboggan, and were rewarded with an oasis of sandwiches, cake and a hot cup of tea. Bliss!
We didn’t hang around long however as our leader in blue had already left so we wanted to catch her. We pushed on over the railway bridge and headed uphill for a big climb past Stoodley Pike.
This is my favourite section of the event. It’s part of the Pennine Way and the views are just stunning. It also feels like proper moorland too – long grasses growing over boggy ground, really squelchy and satisfying.
Once we were at the top I knew I probably shouldn’t continue and do the full 22. I felt fine – my legs were obviously tired after 13 miles – but I knew if I pushed the distance too far I would need more recovery time which would ultimately impact negatively on my marathon training sessions if I couldn’t manage to do my tempo runs and speedwork to the best of my ability the following week.
So as we reached checkpoint 4, Jason and I said goodbye to Claire and wished her well, then we ran down the lane back into Mythlmroyd for the most incredible meal of pie, mushy peas and mint sauce, followed by rhubarb crumble. I also had 3 cups of tea.
The best day ever. I’m really pleased I went back and did the Hebden again. It’s a fantastic event, and something about it has really gripped me. I don’t know whether it’s the fresh air, the scenery, the cameraderie, but yesterday my heart was singing. I really do love it on the trails – I’m not a particularly fast or talented trail runner but it’s where I feel happiest. And I will be back to complete the full Hebden 22.