The registration queue was still out the door so we were a little late starting. Wendy was wanting to be off in the hope she could get to the cross country afterwards and I was going to add a few miles to make it an ultra. Many walkers had obviously started early because we were overtaking them for some time even up as far as Winter Hill. The pull up to Rivington Pike never gets any easier and always seems to come before I am well warmed up. Nick was clearly on fire and was leading the way and running strongly. I was concerned that I was with Steve and John who are far better runners than me. Meanwhile Pete was even further up ahead and was either going to have a storming run or regret the early pace. Albert disappeared into the distance never to be seen again, well not by me. By the Pike there was increasing amounts of snow on the ground and the low cloud made it most atmospheric. The road upto the masts had not been driven on and had a nice layer of snow. The masts were creaking above but no ice was falling thank goodness.
The track down towards Belmont was actually nicer than usual despite the snow covered stones but I was cautious of turning an ankle and took it steady. At the road we found some checkpoint marshalls who seemed to have moved from their traditional position but were not ready for us. The next few fields were the usual bog fest and then we were climbing towards the part of the route that I think is navigationally tricky. Little fenced area on right and head towards next gate. Oops even today I veered a tiny bit too far left. After the marker post where the shorter route breaks away is the true test. It did not disappoint and it was not long before a whole group of us were muttering and debating the correct line. Wendy of course knew the way- but was at the back of the group. Albert claims there is a path across that area but I have never found it. On my last attempt on a clear day with no time constraints I was driven astray by marrauding heifers that did not want me on their land (honest- they stalked me and scared me before running me off route and away into the marsh grass).
Soon we were on the big track and heading for the Bolton Road. I kept an eye out for the gloves I lost weeks ago but someone has obviously collected them. By now I had reeled Pete back in and worryingly left Steve and John behind. The Entwhistle Barn CP was actually out on the dam road and the marshall cheerful yelled at 'all us lads to make an orderly line' (which explains why he later told Wendy she was first lady). I had a mouthful of tea and then kept plodding. Nick, Pete and others were stretching out ahead but I could not stick with them, my right bum muscles hurt and that was all there was to it. Walk, stretch and pray they felt better. For a while I was on my own but it wasn't long before Steve and John reclaimed their rightful places ahead of me and we headed back to the road for the assault on Darwen Moor. I could hear voices behind us and used the lads ahead and Pete just behind me to keep me going to the top. Then Richard and Ian arrived.They had started steadily but were moving well.The snow on the top was an improvement on mud but sadly the ground was not frozen enough to prevent cold wet feet. Somewhere after the little ramp at the cattle grid I took my eye off the ball because I never even saw the first path off to the right. This meant when we got to the next path and should have turned for the Tower we questioned it but decided it should still be straight on. Oops- a gang of locals and we all went the wrong way. Once our footprints were there we started a trend and even Ian who had stopped for a toilet break followed them. It was not a disaster just an annoying two long sides of a triangle. I contended myself with it meaning I would have less mileage to add at the end. Nick, Steve and John grinned at us as the sped off towards Slipper Lowe and we cut back to the Tower. There was no marshall and so no jelly babies at the Tower this year, just a self clip standing all forlorn. Annoyance at our mistake and the thought of a hotdog at the next CP made me run harder. The CP was busy with walkers from the shorter route but no hotdogs. I grabbed a cup of tea and cake before spotting Mick arriving. He had overtaken Pete to catch us up. On On... Only one big hill to go now. The fields below Great Hill are always wet but today they seemed no worse than usual, in fact they were not as bad as I expected. The stone cross shelter on the summit was not a place to linger in the mist and drizzle so I shot off down to Drinkwaters. From here I always feel you are on the final stretch. I enjoyed the blast down to White Coppice and even stopped for a couple of photos.(this really was taken on the same day as the one ascending Rivington Pike!)
I love this little cricket ground and have started many training runs from here, along with the PH Curry runs. Today though it was swift hello and thank you to the marshalls and I was off. I relentlessly picked off walkers up ahead and was sooon running through the woods and towards the reservoirs. The little short cut on the tiny road has a tree down so I stuck to the tarmac and on past the quarries. A quick check of my watch showed this was not going to be a great time and was likely to be a PW but nevermind. I tried to make up what I could and wondered how far ahead Nick might be.
The answer was only a minute or so, which if I had known might have made me try even harder. The pull up by the cobbled reservoir overspill is a nasty little sting in the tail but from there it is an easy run back down the stoney track, alongside the stream, up the steps with the 'new' handrail and one last field. As I entered the hall to give in my tally there was Nick just getting his shoes off. Good run that man, and in shorts too! I paused for just a quick chat with Bob who had come to collect me and those that had finished. I was keen to get the extra miles done so that I could eat. It was a steady run down to the castle, a little loop and then back. 27.7 miles done. Food at last. Apart from a hot spot on one toe I didn't feel too bad and was soon warm. That meant I had an hour or so to get to the M61 services to meet my lift to Sheffield for the British Night O champs. The gameplan was to have tired legs so that I ran slowly and navigated carefully.Well you can dream.
PS. I ran fairly slowly and navigated badly. Made some pretty awful errors. Took one flying tumble when mt feet got wrapped in brambles but sort of enjoyed myself despite all this. A full day. Sunday morning was already spoken for in the guise of DoE with kids from school. I had sort of planned a route running home from there but after 3 hours or so of standing around in the snow, sleet and drizzle I decided not to push my luck. After all I would like to enjoy my challenge. It was a bit wierd to be home and I felt vague disappointed not to be running- my legs felt surprisingly OK.