Durham Dales Challenge

I coughed and spluttered my way round the NN Long ‘O’ event and it was clear that I was neither fit nor well enough to do the Chevy Chase. I emailed the organisers of this always over-subscribed race telling them to give my place to someone on the reserve list.

A couple of days later I was back at the Doctor. “It’s a sort of coughing fit”, I said, “maybe a bit asthma-like, and it’s always induced by exercise.”. I gave her a pleading look and I could see that she felt a bit sorry for me. She said, “Perhaps you’ve got Exercise Induced Asthma“. I gave a silent “Yes!” under my breath, and thought this must’ve been how Spike Milligan felt, briefly, when he realised that the inscription on his headstone turned out to be good value after all. So apparently I might have something, it sounded quite fashionable too. I’d been dreading that the diagnosis might be ‘Hypochondriac’, because apparently there’s no cure for that. I tried out my shiny new inhaler in a midweek orienteering event and was pleasantly surprised to get a half-decent result with a minimum of splutter. Very chuffed. This was looking promising. I was beginning to regret cancelling my Chevy place. Perhaps for the best though: the Chevy has some very tough climbs but the Durham Dales Challenge, despite being 10 miles longer, bashes the climbs with a hammer so they’re a bit gentler and there are more flat bits.

So this morning found me in the loos at Wolsingham High School with a late entry to the Durham Dales Challenge. It was 8:59AM and the race starts at 9. Not a problem – hold your nerve and leave going to the toilets until the last minute and they’re always empty. Plus they’d be doing all that talky stuff at the Start which was only about 100 yards away so I had bags of time. 9AM found me at the Start. But there was a vast expanse of empty space where the runners and walkers should be! Not even a hint of a clicking Leki could be heard in the distance. I was suddenly quite alarmed. Surely if they’ve just started I should see some rucksacks receding into the distance. We all know what Swaledale is like – takes forever to get everyone moving.

I gave a startled yelp (no, really I did, a sort of short ‘ah!’ sound as in ‘Did I leave the gas on?’ not as in ‘what a nice cup of tea.’) and started running. Had the Start moved? Where was everyone? It was a good half-mile or so before I saw my first tail-ender, then round the corner to the big long hill, and there they were. Hundreds of them. What a relief!

About 20 minutes later I caught up with Christine and Margaret and we ran and talked together for a bit. Well, I did most of the talking, about my theory that the DDC is longer and gentler than the Chevy, which is shorter and sharper. This was Christine’s first time on the DDC so I asked her to consider my words of wisdom and let me know her views after finishing because by then she’d have tried both. They also mentioned that the Start had been 3 minutes early. Hmmm, I learned a Valuable Lesson today.

I clicked my heels and ran ahead. I wasn’t feeling at all bad but was careful to not go too fast as it was a hot day and I was wary of being overconfident. Checkpoint 2 had been moved a bit further in to Hamsterley and last year’s Checkpoint 3 wasn’t there this year, so you had quite a long stretch (about 8 miles) to the next re-fuelling checkpoint in Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The stretch alongside the River Tees is one of my favourite parts of the route, followed by a climb up through some meadows before getting to Middleton, by which time I was ready for a drink and rest.

The Middleton checkpoint is indoors and wraps you in comforting arms and you don’t really want to leave, but it has to be done. It does have the enormous psychological advantage of being the half-way point so you’re running home now. Unfortunately it also has some of the main climbs of the day and I was beginning to feel hot and weary. As you leave checkpoint 6 (22 miles) things start settling down and there are no big climbs left and lots of nice runnable descending. But the reality was catching up with me by now – this race entry had been an impulse purchase and I wasn’t properly trained.

Middleton in Teesdale – half way

From here I ran pretty much all the way to the finish but it was tough stuff – a lot tougher than last year and I had Jules and Mel hunting me down then. I concentrated on the patch of ground a few metres ahead and tried to keep the rhythm going using whatever remnant of a tune was kicking around in my head at the time. Unfortunately I’d been listening to the music for the spaghetti western ‘The Good the Bad and the Ugly’ on the drive to Wolsingham, and it wasn’t really helping much. The bit where the base guitar goes DUM DUM DUM DUM DUM!!!!! wasn’t too bad (although a bit slow), but then you get the WA WA WAAAAAA bit, and that really wasn’t helping at all.

I caught up with some runners who were warily regarding a group of cattle at the gate they wanted to go through. They re-calculated their route due to updated traffic information and decided to climb over the wall, but I was pretty much past caring, and I think the coos knew too even they though did look a bit armed and dangerous. But there was no military coup (sorry) and I jumped over the gate unharmed, suddenly finding that my manoeuvre had gained me some ground. The runners in front had suddenly become the runners right beside me and they were an interesting crowd – I’d had them on my radar for miles but they kept jumping about, getting further away, then closer, as they all seemed to run at different speeds, like a dysfunctional peloton.

Anyway I was grateful just to tuck in behind them and hang on the remaining miles to the finish. I was very happy indeed to finally walk back into Wolsingham School and sit quietly for about 15 minutes waiting for my face to turn from tomato red to medium-rare. It was very hard towards the end and I wasn’t really ready for a biggie race like this but I was very pleased to get round at all, something that I would’ve thought unthinkable a few months ago.

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