Durham Dales Challenge

There was, not surprisingly, a bigger than usual turnout for the 25th Anniversary running of the Durham Dales Challenge. I’d forgotten the system for kit checks, which turned out to be looking at the kit list, and signing a form to say that you understood that you had the kit. I would be carrying a torch, and not just any old torch, a working one at that.

Durham Dales Challenge – 25 years

And lots of water. I did the Swaledale Marathon thing and assumed rather smugly that my two drinks bottles counted as a cup/mug and so I wouldn’t actually have to have a cup dangling irritatingly from my backback. When I got to the half-way point and could’ve murdered a cup of coffee, I rather wish I had. When they say bring a cup, they mean it.

I’ve done this event before so knew that the navigation was pretty easy. The 30 miler and 17 miler routes part company early on, where Santa points you in the appropriate direction depending on your choice. Santa is the only marshall you’ll see. But you needn’t worry about maps and marshalls, just keep reading the clear route descriptions.

Durham Dales Challenge – time to choose

Unfortunately I didn’t read the bit about turning sharp right to go onto a narrow forest path, and instead continued galloping along a stony Hamsterley forest track, only to realise something fishy was going on when I bumped into a marshall. Not any old marshall, but a Hamsterley Marathon marshall. Turning 180 I bounded back from whence I came only to bump into Melanie and Jules who had also made the same mistake, as had many others.

But Melanie and Jules were only getting warmed up. They wouldn’t expect me to do the honourable thing and refrain from listing their impressive list of creative navigational deviations, and they’d be right. It was just as well that for the most of the race they were running a bit faster than me as it allowed me to shout ahead when they strayed from the route, which they did with impressive frequency. We soon got into a rhythm and when we got to Middleton in Teesdale and they turned right instead of left, I simply shouted STRIDERS! as loudly as I could. When they looked back in a guilty golden labrador sort of way I simply pointed meaningfully left in a pointing meaningly left sort of way.

Durham Dales Challenge – follow the tapes

Once out of Middleton in Teesdale (where those who had brought cups had a cup of tea) the half-way point has come and gone and, psychologically, you’re on the way home. But I remembered this being a tough bit of the race. A long climb out of town to get to Checkpoint 6 then the barren climb over the top and down to Great Eggleshope Beck.

On to Checkpoint 7 where I tried to untangle my control card for clipping. The clipping lady insisted that it wasn’t a problem and as she clipped my card commented that she’d be sure to be careful what she did with her clippers. Indeed! I’ve never been a fan of body piercings, and if I did ever get any, they certainly wouldn’t be there. Another reason not to wear lycra.

I’d caught up with Jules and Mel who upon departing checkpoint 7 were about to go off-piste once more. I put them right then followed them out. By this point you’ve past the psychological 20 mile mark and there isn’t much more climbing ahead. Jules and Mel started chatting to a walker and continued chatting to him all the way to the top of the hill. I paused about half way up the hill in order to stay on course and take the path away to the right, and hollered up to Jules and Mel that they might like to do so too.

Durham Dales Challenge – tasty checkpoint

As they came back on course I started jogging again on the now slightly descending path. It was quite nice to be running again and I got into a bit of a rhythm and stuck with it. I was still running when I approached Checkpoint 8 to see several green blobs in the distance. As we got closer they turned out to be marshalls in greenish fancy dress. They offered me a toasted teacake but I just took juice and jelly babies. One commented that there were two lasses just behind me and Jules and Mel turned up a few moments later.

The last 7 miles or so of the DDC are either downhill or flat and I was running quite steadily now so I pushed on. Into a farmyard just as the farmer was herding his sheep down the track. I followed patiently, only avoiding following them into the pen when the farmer obligingly opened another gate and pointed me in the right direction. At the penultimate self-clip checkpoint I caught another runner who was having a bad year. A previous sub-6 hour man he was struggling this time and we ran together almost to the finish, unfortunately taking a slightly longer route as I insisted on unnecessarily taking the path I took last year, rather than the shorter unflooded one I could’ve taken this year.

At the final self-clip I glanced back and saw Jules and Mel not so far behind. Should I wait a few minutes so we could all run in together like something out of The Incredible Journey?. I mean, these were my clubmates and we’d been through a hard 7+ hours together. I looked at my new running partner and asked him. He looked at me as if I was insane and said, simply. “Na, just bury them.”. Well that was clear enough. I tapped my heels together and galloped the last few yards through Wolsingham and up to the school, where, like all proper races, you have to open a door and walk up to a table where you actually finish. No chip timing here.

Durham Dales Challenge – Jun 2014

I think this impeccably organised event is likely to become a favourite of mine, partly due to the elegance of the route, the diversity of terrain and scenery, and probably in no small part due to the relatively easy last 7 miles. The 30 miles pass quickly.

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