My first ultra – laying a demon to rest by Chris Roberts

Being quite old my relationship to the Great Outdoors goes back a long way. In October 1983, having stumbled across reference to the Lyke Wake Walk and having read Bill Cowley’s book on the subject, I made an unsuccessful unsupported solo attempt on the challenge walk. I then tended to keep to the nearer to home areas of Lakes, Dales and Pennines until this year when I completed the route as a competitor in the Lyke Wake Challenge, an annual race organised by the Quakers’ Running Club.

The LWW began as a challenge walk in 1955 with the aforementioned Bill Cowley being the principle instigator. The classic route starts near Osmotherley and finishes 40 miles later on the East coast at Ravenscar, having traversed the North York Moors. Start and finish points have been adjusted over the years and parts of the route have changed but it remains a similar challenge to cross the moors and bogs in less than 24 hours. Crossings can be completed in either direction and records also exist for double and triple (and more!) crossings. Joss Naylor took the record to 4.53 in 1979 and Mark Rigby’s 1984 time of 4.41 is the current record.
A few months ago I was casting around looking for a race around 40 miles to test the effects of the training I had been doing and The Lyke Wake Challenge seemed the obvious one to go for. Never having raced further than marathon distance it is a fair step up and at the same time would allow me to redress the balance by actually finishing the challenge!
I left entering until almost the closing day but then fell and injured my knee the next day. This set back my training and meant I arrived at the start line at 5.50 on 14th July less well prepared than I had hoped. Incidentally start times are handicapped based on previous performance or your own estimate of expected lapsed time. I suggested nine and a half hours based on nothing more than my roughly six hours on the Ingleborough marathon.

With me on the start line were four other runners. Three local lads who stuck together throughout and another chap who turned out to be a veteran of many crossings. The first part of the route takes you along the road from Cod Beck Reservoir but soon joins the Cleveland Way route through some woods and then onto the first decent climb. Conditions were already warm with little breeze but the views from the escarpment were good as early mists evaporated. I was feeling good and the knee was behaving so I more or less kept pace with the others who had started with me. I was a bit slow on the steep descent of Carlton Bank into the first checkpoint but spent little time there and pressed on for Clay Bank. This section is mainly good paths and tracks and we were making good time. I noticed at 6.4km (one tenth of the way) I had taken 48 minutes. If I could keep this up that would be an 8 hour crossing! As I was approaching checkpoint 2 I was delighted to see that Sophie had come up the hill to meet me and chase me in. At the checkpoint Sarah was also waiting for me with everything I might need. I am so grateful for my support team who had a long day and some interesting roads to drive along to keep me fully supplied. To be fair the checkpoints were all well stocked with food and drink and very cheery marshals as well.
Leaving Clay Bank there is another climb as we headed towards the highest point on the course. I had covered about 15km with another 14 to the next checkpoint. The path was still good as it shares the route with the Cleveland Way until Bloworth Crossing, where the Way turns north and the Lyke Wake makes use of an old railway line. Along this section I began to slow down although it is fairly flat and smooth. I was beginning to have aching quads which is unusual for me so early in a run, but was a result I think of straining them in a DIY related incident earlier that week. The view down into Farndale was some compensation but the heat was beginning to become oppressive. This was the section that did for me back in 1983 so I was glad to keep moving and arrive at the Lion Inn where Sarah and Sophie were once again in support. What a treat to get rice pudding and tinned peaches from the checkpoint team! I had a bit longer here while I stocked up on food and rubbed some Ibuprofen gel into my legs. I took a couple of paracetamol for good measure too.
Leaving the Lion Inn there is a couple of miles of road before striking off into the wilderness which is the infamous bog section. Normally you can expect to sink into deep bogs along here but with the extremely dry conditions following weeks of drought it was mainly dry all the way. Indeed some parts were as hard as concrete, with other bits nice springy peat. I had left the three lads back on the railway line but they passed me along here and stayed ahead all the way. Still, I racked up the first 32 km in around 4.38 so felt on schedule. The reality was that I was slowing down and later splits confirmed this.

Running down into Hamer checkpoint I had covered 38.5 km in 5.37. It felt like late afternoon but was not yet even midday! I had another longish stop here to check my feet. This involved re-applying tape where I would expect a chance of blisters, but none were apparent yet. I had agreed that Sarah and Sophie would skip the next checkpoint as the road distances make it difficult to get there and to the next ahead of the runners. This wasn’t so bad as the legs are only 6 & 5 km. However I was now slowing even more, as the path became very rocky after Blue Man i’ th’ Moss (a standing stone). I wasted no time at checkpoint 5 but pressed on, down to Wheeldale Beck and back up and over Simon Howe to the NYMR railway line and so to Eller Beck, cp6. With the next and last checkpoint close to the finish this was to be my last prolonged pit stop so I refuelled and set off again at an even slower pace!

The next bit I found it harder to follow the path but I got back on it and took my phone out for the first time for a selfie at the cross on Lilla Howe. I was now crossing Fylingdales Moor and was out of the “bog” section, but was finding the stony track hard going. My right foot was sore if I hit any rocks so I walked much of this part. There was a drop down into the valley of Jugger Howe Beck then a climb out to the final checkpoint. Pausing only to guzzle a goodly quantity of electrolyte I pushed on, keen to beat 11 hours. It was already 4 o’clock but the last leg is only 3 miles. A nice grassy path leads up to the radio mast which I had first spotted long ago. Once there I opted to take the road route for the last mile or so to the finish at the Raven Hall Hotel. I was able to run all this part and even managed a sprint across the line, where I collected my most hard earned t-shirt ever! Total time 10.52, distance 65.26 km, height gain only 1215 m. (Footnote. Wake is the watching over a corpse and Lyke is the corpse itself).